After a long drought, there are now more power plants under development in New England than there has been in over a decade, but how long that trend can last is anybody’s guess.
In late February, three power-plant projects, representing 1302 MW of new capacity, cleared the capacity auction conducted by ISO New England, the operator of the region’s electric grid, bringing to 3126 MW the total of power projects under development in the region.
Invenergy cleared 485 MW of a 1000-MW project in Burrillville, R.I. PSEG Power cleared a 484-MW project in Bridgeport, Conn., and NRG Energy cleared its 333-MW Canal 3 project in Sandwich, Mass.
ISO New England conducts the capacity auction every year to ensure the region will have enough generating capacity to meet future needs. This year’s capacity auction, which was for the 2019-20 delivery year, was watched closely because of Entergy’s October announcement that it would close its 680-MW Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, Mass., by June 2019. That announcement, combined with others, stirred concerns that New England would run short of capacity.
In addition to the 4200 MW from plants that already have retired or plan to retire, ISO New England says another 6000 MW are at risk of retirement.
But until Footprint Power’s 674-MW natural-gas-fired project in Salem, Mass., cleared the auction in 2014, capacity prices were so low that some analysts questioned whether any developers would step up to the challenge.
Footprint’s Salem project cleared the auction at $14.99 per kW per month, but it was considered an anomaly because it was in the constrained area around Boston. In prior auctions, capacity prices hovered around the $3/kW/month floor price.
This year’s auction results are remarkable: The auction not only set a high-water mark in terms of cleared capacity, it did so at a price lower than last year’s auction and about half of Salem’s clearing price.
The three projects cleared the 2016 auction at $7.03/kW/month. Of the three projects that cleared the 2015 auction, two did so at $9/kW/month and the other at $11/kW/month.
Of the seven projects that cleared the auction in the past three years, only two are in construction: Footprint Power’s Salem project and Competitive Power Venture’s 725-MW Towantic project in Oxford, Conn.
Despite declining prices, this year’s auction attracted 6700 MW of projects, of which only 1302 MW cleared, leaving “a whole lot of megawatts ready, willing and able” to bid into next year’s auction, says Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association.
“Those projects are not going to disappear overnight,” he says, but that optimism has to be tempered by the fact that state energy- efficiency measures are reducing demand. ISO New England has noted that the outlook for load growth is flat to negative, which could slow the need for more power plants.