Monthly Archives: September 2017

Pipeline agency fails to explain how it assesses risk, prioritizes inspections

by Marie Cusick / State Impact, NPR
September 21, 2017

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found federal pipeline regulators unable to document or explain their processes for assessing risk.

It’s unclear whether federal regulators are properly prioritizing safety inspections on the nation’s massive network of natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Pipeline safety is overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. With a safety staff of about 200 people covering 2.7 million miles of pipelines, PHMSA must pick and choose where it sends inspectors. Weld failures and corrosion are among the leading causes of significant incidents, according to the GAO.
In order to assess the risk of pipeline segments, PHMSA relies on data from pipeline companies and plugs it into its so-called, Risk Ranking Index Model (RRIM). Each year, the model produces a score which puts them into a high, medium, or low risk category—prompting inspections every three, five, or seven years, respectively.

But the GAO says PHMSA was unable to document or explain the rationale behind the RRIM model, and the agency has not used data to track its effectiveness. The situation is inconsistent with federal management principles, says the GAO.

“Because PHMSA has not documented the basis for the design and key decisions of RRIM… it is unclear how effectively the model has helped PHMSA manage its inspection resources or maximize safety benefits to the public,” the report says.

For example, the model inexplicably places a greater weight on longer pipeline segments, assuming they have higher relative risk than shorter segments.

PHMSA officials also told the GAO the thresholds for the risk tiers were “determined based on their professional judgement that 25 percent of inspection systems should be considered high risk, 50 percent medium risk, and 25 percent low risk, to ensure a relatively consistent workload across regions.”

And the agency could not explain why it chose the inspection intervals of three, five, and seven years.
The GAO report was mandated by legislation in 2016 requiring it to review topics related to pipeline materials and corrosion.

“While pipelines are a relatively safe mode of transporting an inherently dangerous material,” the report says, “an incident can pose a profound threat to life, property, and the environment.”

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Pipeline protesters return to FERC energized by recent wins, Trump backlash Exclusive

By  Sean Sullivan, S&P Global Blog
September 20, 2017

Returning to protest the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at its first meeting in months, opponents of natural gas pipelines said protests at the agency and a backlash against President Donald Trump helped set the stage for a recent string of victories at the state level and in federal appeals courts.

“We are starting to see with Trump as president that there are state regulatory agencies and federal court judges who seem to be now acting a little differently,” said Ted Glick, a leader at Beyond Extreme Energy. “Maybe it is because if Obama is no longer president, they feel more responsibility.” Beyond Extreme Energy would like to lead the country away from gas transportation infrastructure and fossil fuels because of climate and community impacts.

“The fact is that state environmental agencies in New York, West Virginia and North Carolina in the last month have all made decisions very much to the displeasure of the pipeline industry,” including extra scrutiny and even denial of Clean Water Act permits issued by the states, Glick said. In a Sept. 20 interview, he also pointed to a Delaware River Basin Commission move toward a ban on hydraulic fracturing and the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit’s decision to vacate an approval of the Enbridge Inc.-led Sabal Trail gas pipeline, which sent the matter back to FERC for more analysis of downstream greenhouse gas emissions.

“All those things are going against what Trump wants to do” and against FERC, which Beyond Extreme Energy and others believe is thwarting the transition to a clean, efficient energy future by approving pipelines, compressor stations and LNG terminals, Glick said.

“I think there is a connection between the protests that have been happening at FERC over the last three years and [protests] that happened at the Senate in relationship to the Trump appointees … and the growth of this movement,” Glick said.

Protesters from Beyond Extreme Energy and Delaware Riverkeeper Network interrupted the FERC monthly meeting Sept. 20, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Delaware Riverkeeper leader Maya van Rossum warned of dangers that fossil fuels pose to the climate as she was escorted out of the chamber by security. A display in front of the commission showed the gas industry as a puppeteer with the commissioners on strings.

A protest display shows FERC commissioners dancing to the demands of the natural gas industry.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Members of these groups and others then moved to Capitol Hill to try to win support for their cause. They asked legislators to place a moratorium on FERC approvals of pipelines and other gas infrastructure until Congress makes changes to the commission, and they urged Congress to write bills to turn the country’s priorities toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

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Could feds pave way for new Mass. gas project?

Buzz builds on FERC priorities under Trump

by Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
September 21, 2017

Environmental activists who oppose the construction of new natural gas pipeline capacity in New England are watching what’s going on at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington with growing concern.

The federal agency last week overruled a decision by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation denying a water quality permit for the construction of a connection between an existing pipeline and a natural gas plant currently in development.

FERC’s decision was based on a technicality – that the New York agency had failed to act within an allotted one-year time frame and thus had waived its authority. Two other pipeline companies have indicated they will go to FERC seeking similar rulings for their projects.

While the FERC decision seems fairly narrow in scope, industry officials and environmental activists both say the ruling is a strong signal that the federal agency under President Trump is willing to take a more activist role in state pipeline battles. That could become important in New England as the region debates whether more pipeline capacity is needed to keep the lights on during the winter months.
New England’s dependence on natural gas is growing. A report released last week by the regional grid operator, ISO-New England, said natural gas-fired power plants represented 44.5 percent of the region’s electricity-generating capacity in 2016, a percentage expected to grow to 56 percent over the next decade. The report also said inadequate pipeline capacity in the region raises reliability concerns that are “particularly critical” during peak winter demand conditions when prices rise and some natural gas plants find it difficult to obtain fuel.

For several years now, the region has been debating what to do about the pipeline situation, which has been subsumed to some degree within the broader debate about climate change. Nowhere has the debate been more intense than in Massachusetts, the largest consumer of electricity in the six-state region.

Last August, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a Baker administration initiative to tap electric ratepayers for the money to finance additional gas pipeline capacity. The court held that existing state law didn’t allow such a financing arrangement, and gaining legislative approval for the approach is considered unlikely, largely because the state Senate during the last session voted unanimously to oppose such a move.

The pipeline debate has faded from the headlines, but it hasn’t disappeared. ISO-New England is working on a “fuel security study” due out next month that will assess whether the region can keep the lights on without new pipeline capacity. Given the ISO’s past pronouncements, the betting is that the grid operator will say the region needs another natural gas pipeline.

Still, the politics haven’t changed. Many of the New England states favor adding more pipeline capacity, but Massachusetts remains a holdout.

Environmental advocates say they are worried that ISO-New England may use its fuel security study to push for a region-wide tariff on electric ratepayers to pay for the additional pipeline capacity. Just as the ISO makes the case for transmission projects needed to keep the grid operating smoothly, it could argue that more pipeline capacity is needed to keep natural gas-fired power plants running during the winter months.

FERC under former president Obama would have been reluctant to bless what is basically a way to sidestep Massachusetts opposition, but Trump’s new appointees to the agency, as they demonstrated last week, may feel the region’s energy needs are a higher priority.

Kathryn Eiseman, director of the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network and an opponent of new pipelines, said she is monitoring the agency’s actions closely. “FERC often breaks the law and allows pipelines to be built before anyone can get into court to prove that the agency has abused its power,” she said.

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Time running out to help shape CT Comprehensive Energy Strategy

The deadline for comments on the 2017 Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy is by 4:00 pm, September 25, 2017. Though the new Draft CES does mention the need for increased renewables, it’s policies, as currently written, may actually hinder their development.

A recent letter from dozens of CT Environmental groups to the DEEP reviews what needs to be corrected in detail

» Letter delivered to DEEP on the Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy.
Signed by dozens of environmental leaders.

More comments echoing these details will help drive the point home that the Draft CES needs serious revision before becoming official policy.

All interested persons are invited to submit written comments electronically on or before September 25, 2017, by 4:00 p.m.
Written comments can be electronically filed on the DEEP website.
Written comments can also be e-mailed to or sent via US Mail to Debra Morrell, DEEP’s, Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy, Ten Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051. All of the written comments received on the draft Strategy will be posted on the DEEP website.

» See Notice


» Further talking points for commenting

ISO-NE Forecast Sees Flat Loads, More Solar, No Congestion

By Rich Heidorn Jr.

BOSTON — ISO-NE expects growing energy efficiency and behind-the-meter solar generation to more than cancel out load growth over the next 10 years.

ISO-NE NERC energy efficiency Coal-Fired Generation

RTO officials outlined their forecasts at a public forum on their draft 2017 Regional System Plan on Thursday.

ISO-NE NERC energy efficiency Coal-Fired Generation

The forum’s 150 attendees were mostly industry stakeholders, regulators and RTO officials. But there was also a three-woman contingent from Mothers Out Front, a climate change activist group, who pressed RTO planners on the region’s continued reliance on fossil-fueled generation. Carol Chamberlain, of Arlington, Mass., raised concerns about methane leaks in the natural gas supply chain. Randi Soltysiak, of Somerville, Mass., criticized the RTO’s plan for not shifting more heavily to carbon-free sources.

“To me, forming a new 10-year plan around increasing fossil fuels in 2017 is not only irresponsible, but it’s morally unconscionable in the face of the climate destruction that we’re seeing,” she said. “We need to do better. This is New England. They’re [setting 100% renewable goals] in Australia and they’re doing it in California.”

Others in the audience questioned transmission spending and the dearth of storage in the region. The RTO got its first grid-scale battery, a 16-MW facility at Yarmouth Station, last year.

ISO-NE NERC energy efficiency Coal-Fired Generation

Passive demand resources and energy efficiency are expected to more than double over 10 years to 4,475 MW in 2026. Solar PV, including BTM generation and resources participating in ISO-NE wholesale markets, also is expected to more than double over the planning horizon, from 1,918 MW (nameplate) in 2016 to 4,733 MW by 2026. BTM PV will reduce summer peak loads by 1,035 MW in 2026.

But the RTO expects natural gas to comprise 56% of its capacity by 2026, up from 44% now, said Michael Henderson, the RTO’s director of regional planning and coordination, who gave a presentation on the plan.

Declining Net Loads

Although planners expect the gross peak summer load to grow 1% over the 10-year planning horizon, they forecast net load — including energy efficiency and solar generation — to drop 0.6% per year, from almost 126,800 GWh in 2017 to less than 120,000 GWh in 2026.

The 50/50 net summer peak forecast for 2026 is about 26,300 MW, down 0.6% from 2017. The 90/10 net summer peak forecast, however, rises by 0.5% to more than 29,000 MW in 2026.

Energy efficiency — supported by more than $1 billion in spending annually by the New England states — is expected to reduce the 90/10 net winter peak load from almost 21,900 MW to 20,600 MW, easing concerns over having sufficient natural gas for power generation during the heating season.


Despite declining net loads, the RTO says its net installed capacity requirement will grow from 34,300 MW in 2022 to 35,700 MW in 2026. Barring retirements, New England’s resources would exceed the ICR by at least 1,700 MW throughout the planning horizon.

“However, the region will likely still need to rely on operating procedures that provide load and capacity relief every season from 2018 through 2026, especially under extremely hot and humid conditions, severe winter weather, and during infrastructure-outage conditions of both electric power and natural gas facilities,” the report says. “The region also will likely face additional retirements of aging oil and coal-fired generation.”

The RTO’s interconnection queue has 76 active projects totaling almost 13,000 MW, including 6,400 MW of natural gas, 5,400 MW of wind generation and 77 MW of batteries.

Almost all the proposed natural gas generation is in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, consistent with the plan’s conclusion that “the most reliable and economic place for resource development” remains near load centers in southern New England. About 80% of the RTO’s load is south of Massachusetts’ northern border, Henderson said.

Two-thirds of the wind capacity would be added in Maine, with the remainder mostly offshore projects off the southeast coast of Massachusetts.

Transmission Needs

The report notes changes in the criteria and inputs used in assessing system needs, including the adoption of NERC transmission planning standards. The RTO also is using a new probabilistic methodology to determine the amount of generation assumed out of service in its base case analyses.

The report includes about $4 billion in proposed, planned and under-construction transmission upgrades. Since 2002, the RTO has spent $12.4 billion to add 714 transmission project components. “With these system upgrades in place, combined with the changes in assumptions to needs assessments … the need for additional reliability-based transmission upgrades, as shown by the steady-state studies of peak load, is expected to decline over the planning horizon. Conversely, generation retirements and studies reviewing system performance, accounting for the integration of nonsynchronous resources and improved load modeling, may drive the need for some additional reliability-based transmission upgrades.”

ISO-NE NERC energy efficiency Coal-Fired Generation

Future drivers of transmission include integration of large-scale renewable resources and distributed resources, aging infrastructure, adding interchange capability with neighboring systems, and complying with new NERC standards, the report says.

“The overall need for major additional reliability-based transmission projects is expected to decline over the planning horizon. The low growth of net peak load means it no longer is a major driver of the need for new reliability-based transmission projects,” it continues. “The development of [Forward Capacity Market] resources in favorable system locations also defers the need for major new projects.”

The RTO has yet to identify the need for market-efficiency transmission upgrades (METUs), because reliability upgrades have reduced system production costs, particularly out-of-merit operating costs. New economic and fast-start resources also have helped eliminate congestion and uplift costs.

While the study projects sufficient capacity and transmission to meet reliability criteria, it says the limited natural gas pipeline system is a fuel-security risk, especially in winter.

Panel Discussion

In addition to the presentation on the system plan and a keynote speech by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the forum included a panel discussion on planning for the “hybrid” grid. (See related story, Ex-EPA Chief Angry but Optimistic Over Climate Change.)

Outgoing ISO-NE Board Chair Paul Levy moderated the discussion, which focused on integrating renewables, storage and other distributed energy resources.

ISO-NE NERC energy efficiency Coal-Fired Generation

Chris Root, chief operating officer for Vermont Electric Power Co., said his state is showing where the region is headed.

About one-quarter of its typical peak load of 1,000 MW is provided by solar on sunny days. More than 35% of its needs come from in-state run-of-river hydro and hydro imports from Canada and New York. It also has 120 MW of wind, with an additional 30 MW under construction.

“Ninety percent of the time, there is not a single carbon-producing generator running in the state of Vermont,” he said.

But wind output must be curtailed during heavy hydro runoff periods because of insufficient transmission, he said. “There hasn’t been a public policy transmission project yet. Everyone’s scared to be No. 1 on that,” he said.

ISO-NE NERC energy efficiency Coal-Fired Generation

Stephen Pike, CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said he would like to see “a truly educated and engaged customer base.”

He said that when his organization offered businesses a free feasibility study on adding solar or storage, it could find only 30 takers, well below the 50 it sought. “It’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “Frankly I thought we’d be overwhelmed with requests for assistance.”

Root agreed with the need for more customer education, saying few people know that it takes about 6 acres of PV panels to generate 1 MW. People say, “‘I have six panels on my roof.’ [I say,] ‘Great — you can run a hairdryer.’ A typical women’s hairdryer is 1,500 W. That’s [the capacity of] all the panels on the roof during that time you’re running it.”

Ed McNamara, regional policy director for the Vermont Department of Public Service, predicted consumers will become more educated about the varying cost of power as electric vehicles become more popular.

“Think of how many people you know who know exactly which gas station has the cheapest gas,” he said. “If you’re now moving into electric vehicles, people are going to care about what their rates are.”

Nicholas Miller, senior technical director for GE Energy’s consulting business, said even industry professionals in the U.S. aren’t as informed as they should be. While European engineers have become increasingly comfortable with high renewable penetration rates, in the U.S. “lots and lots of PV starts to get really scary.”

“There are many distribution systems in northern Germany that regularly run at 300% instantaneous [solar] penetration — that is 3 MW of solar for one 1 MW of load. The distribution system looks like a spread-out power plant pushing power onto the grid,” he said. “That makes utility distribution people in the U.S. — including in New England — hair catch on fire. We’ve got a ways to go.”




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