New England study calls for gas pipeline construction

By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, Feb. 6�The Northeast could be short of electricity during peak winter demand as early as 2003 and unserved capacity could reach 3,000 Mw in 2005, unless the region moves quickly to build new gas pipelines, says a study commissioned by the New England grid operator.

New England is expected to get 45% of its electricity from gas-fueled power plants by 2005, compared to 16% in 1999, raising questions about the adequacy of the pipeline infrastructure in the region. Presently, power plants totaling more than 6,700 Mw are under construction throughout the six-state region, all using natural gas as the primary fuel source.

While no constraints on interstate pipelines are expected this winter, the study performed by Boston consultants Levitan & Associates Inc. for Independent Service Operator New England Inc. (ISO), projects 1,700 Mw of gas-fired generation could be affected during peak winter power demand in 2003. During the coldest part of the winter, there may not be sufficient capacity to satisfy demands of both gas utilities and gas-fired generators, the study found.

Stephen G. Whitley, ISO New England's vice-president of system operations, said the findings are of concern.

"One of the most obvious recommendations is for these gas-fired plants to have dual fuel burning capabilities and back-up fuel capability,'' he said.

However, dual-fuel capabilities are not a requirement for building new power plants in New England. For environmental reasons, utilities have been phasing out higher-polluting oil and coal-fired plants.

Recommendations from the study include:

� Expand New England's natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

� Determine what natural gas transportation service power plants have so that during periods of high electric demand the ISO will know which power plants will be available to run and which might be limited due to fuel constraints.

� Promote better communications and coordination between the natural gas and electric power industries so New England's power plants will have up-to-date information on the status of natural gas transport and delivery into the region.

Under some conditions, the study also found interruption of gas delivery could lead to lower delivery pressures or flows, and loss of a high voltage transmission line into New England could reduce electricity imports of up to 2,000 Mw. Gas-fired units would be needed to replenish the loss of those imports.

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