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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Report: Energy efficiency has cut need for $260m worth of power-line upgrades

Energy-efficiency programs in the six New England states have proved so effective at reducing demand that we can put off building a quarter-billion dollars’ worth of planned upgrades to electric transmission towers and lines, according to the agency that runs the region’s power grid.

“We revised an ongoing study of the Vermont-New Hampshire area of the power grid, applying projected (energy-efficiency) savings – plus some new resources, minor upgrades – and we can defer 10 transmission upgrades that earlier studies showed were needed,” said Stephen Rourke, vice president for system planning for ISO-New England. “This will save an estimated $260 million.” ...

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Energy-efficiency programs in the six New England states have proved so effective at reducing demand that we can put off building a quarter-billion dollars’ worth of planned upgrades to electric transmission towers and lines, according to the agency that runs the region’s power grid.

“We revised an ongoing study of the Vermont-New Hampshire area of the power grid, applying projected (energy-efficiency) savings – plus some new resources, minor upgrades – and we can defer 10 transmission upgrades that earlier studies showed were needed,” said Stephen Rourke, vice president for system planning for ISO-New England. “This will save an estimated $260 million.”

Rourke made the announcement during a conference call with the press on Wednesday morning about a study to forecast long-term energy demand for the region in the light of the many state and private programs designed to cut power use.

On average over the next decade, he said, the study estimated that energy-efficiency efforts such as swapping out old-fashioned light bulbs would eliminate growth in New England’s average annual power use, cutting it literally to 0 percent.

Peak levels – the amount of energy used during the hottest part of the hottest days of summer – will still grow over the next decade, ISO-NE estimated, but at less than 1 percent a year, about two-thirds the rate previously predicted.

Peak use during winter is likely to fall slightly, reflecting the fact that the most widespread energy-savings projects involve lighting, which is more of an issue during dark winter days.

Overall, from 2015-21, the report estimated an annual savings of 1,343 gigawatt-hours because of energy efficiency, roughly the amount of electricity used by 2 million average homes for a month, or about 1 percent of current consumption.

“We were surprised at the level, the breadth and depth of the (energy-efficiency) efforts,” Rourke said.

The study looked at “more than 125 different plans in place for how states are funding and implementing (energy efficiency), and a whole range of rules and methods for reporting back on the performance.”

The programs include such things as New Hampshire incentives to buy
EnergyStar appliances or light bulbs and home-insulation rebates that can cut electricity used by burners.

Many are paid for by the System Benefits Charge added to electric bills.

The report estimated the six states would spend $5.7 billion on energy efficiency-programs from 2015-21.

ISO-New England is a nonprofit entity that oversees the power grid, ensuring there’s enough electricity generation in the pipeline, and running the markets that help determine the price of power.

While it has specific forecasts for power needs and generation three years into the future, handled through what are called forward-capacity market, the new study takes a longer look.

The forward-capacity market estimates had already incorporated some energy efficiency, notably the “demand response” system in which companies agree to cut back use on peak days in return for lower rates.

The latest report is the first attempt to quantify the effect of many other efficiency programs, usually aimed at homeowners.

Rourke said it was harder to estimate efficiency gains further down the road, partly because the easiest and less expensive changes are being made first.

“As you look forward through time, we’ll move into industrial motors, heating-and-cooling systems, things that you certainly get large savings from, but they’re much more expensive to put in,” he said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).