ISO New England

May 27, 2011

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to tour the corporation responsible for overseeing the operation of New England’s bulk electric power system and transmission lines. ISO New England, based in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is an independent, non-profit Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) that serves Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

In 1997 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) formed ISO New England as a replacement to the New England Electric Pool (NEPOOL). NEPOOL, which was created to establish a central electricity dispatch system and enhance system reliability, came about due to the 1965 great northeast blackout where 30 million customers lost power.

ISO New England maintains a minute-to-minute reliable operation so that New England is not without power. The corporation’s state-of-the-art computer technology and highly trained staff monitors the electric needs and power output in real time so there are no questions about what generators supply what power and where that power is dispersed. To further ensure that our area of the country, and all regions east of the Rocky Mountains are sufficiently supplied with electricity, ISO is now interconnected with other RTO’s from the eastern seaboard to the mid-west in order to prevent a rolling blackout.

Today, ISO New England works to bring electricity to 6.5 million households and businesses within New England’s population of 14 million. To do so, teams of individuals analyze the energy market and using what is called ‘economic dispatch,’ select the lowest cost resources to meet the power demands of each state. More than 300 electric generators compete by placing daily bids to supply power, and ISO selects the necessary – and cost-effective – bidders to meet the forecasted electric demand for the following day. The day I visited ISO, the uniform clearing price, or the average bid taken, was approximately $38 per megawatt, which equates to about 4 cents per kilowatt hour on your electric bill.

Generators create power through a multitude of means and are located throughout Connecticut, the United States and Canada. In Connecticut our generators create energy through hydropower, pumped storage, nuclear power, natural gas, or through other less efficient means. Last year, nearly 90 percent of the energy ISO sourced came from clean-burning natural gas-fired generators, nuclear power, hydropower and other renewables that are better for the environment.

Not only is ISO tasked with selecting generators on a daily basis, ISO must also forecast the amount of power each state will use and at what times during the day the power peaks and drops. The amount of electricity used fluctuates due to variables such as weather and daylight, so ISO accounts for that by ‘ramping up or down’ the power supplied by generators. Right now, ISO estimates that they source an average of 15,000 megawatts of electricity each day, while in the summer months – with all our air conditioners running – ISO sources nearly 28,000 megawatts.

To perform these highly technical tasks, ISO New England employs a staff of 450 people and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to make sure electric demands are properly and efficiently met. ISO is a great asset to our regional economy and provides a service we all rely on.