New England energy expert says shift to renewables could strain grid

Energy expert Meredith Angwin has a new book coming out called “Shorting the Grid,” and in it she has some warnings for Vermonters about their state’s renewable-driven policies.

“My book is really about how the RTOs [Regional Transmission Organizations] as a group rather than individual states are moving toward rolling blackouts and insufficient generation,” she told True North in a phone interview.

RTOs are charged with coordination and control of multi-state power grids, and Vermont’s RTO is ISO-New England.

“I think that people should know they are in a regional transmission organization area and how the grid decisions are being made,” Angwin said.

The trouble is, Angwin says, regular ratepayers are somewhat excluded from the decision-making process, and it tends to be very closed, so there’s not much information about it that is easily available.

Meredith Angwin

Meredith Angwin

Angwin’s background is energy policy. She was a member of the coordinating committee of the Consumer Liaison Group of ISO-New England, the northeast grid operator. She also was among the first women to be a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute.

Based on her experience, she says RTO green policies don’t always put the best interest of the grid first, and Vermonters should start paying attention.

“You can begin to understand what is happening and why it’s happening, and I think that is really important because we are going to be sliding into grids that are a mixture of intermittent renewables and just-in-time natural gas, and I think that is not a reliable kind of situation,” she said.

Angwin suggested that the way the current RTO operations are set up, it does not resemble a free market for energy producers.

“The thing is, the market works when it’s a market,” she said. “When the market is simply a bunch of different interest groups trying to rig the system so their chosen technology will win, then it isn’t going to save money for people.”

In one part of the interview, she compared RTOs to the bureaucracy to be created by the controversial Global Warming Solutions Act recently passed into law by Vermont’s General Assembly.

“It set up a bureaucracy that’s not answerable to the people who are elected officials, and I see that already with the RTOs,” she said. “There are groups operating the grid that really aren’t answerable [to the electorate].”

When discussing some of the wildfires that have sparked discussions about energy and global warming, Angwin says there’s a definite connection to energy companies. For instance, utilities that power the grids aren’t being guaranteed the money they need to keep everything operating properly, and as a result some have neglected taking care of their powerlines and building new ones.

“So they have overloaded powerlines — [and with] a wind storm and you can begin sparking fires,” she said. She also called the number of fires attributed to this powerline dilemma “quite extraordinary.”

According to Angwin, a serious problem with green energy is that it is intermittent, which is not good for baseload demand — the minimum amount of electricity that is always needed, even during late-night hours when demand drops.

“Baseload is like, it’s always there, it’s always happening, and so plans have traditionally been designed to be very steady producers of baseload — very efficient, somewhat inflexible, you know they just keep moving out the kilowatt-hours,” she said. “Well, when you get renewables happening, the intermittent renewables … wind and solar go on and off when they want to.”

Wind and solar, because they are intermittent, often use natural gas power systems as a back-up. However, turning large natural gas systems on and off repeatedly is very inefficient, and so a renewable project can end up producing more emissions than a non-renewable system.

Angwin argues that nuclear energy provides relatively emissions-free energy that is reliable for baseload and ought to be more widely utilized.

The latest from the author can be found on her website.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Meredith Angwin

7 thoughts on “New England energy expert says shift to renewables could strain grid

  1. Not mentioned here is the issue of Capacity Payments – money paid to highly reliable generators for their capacity. These generators are the backbone of the grid and cannot be allowed go out of business, whether or not they are being forced off-line by politically favored wind and solar. These generators must remain profitable or they will cease operations, so ISO-NE ratepayers pay $3.4 billion per year (in 2019, up from $1.2 billion in 2016) in Capacity Payments in return for a promise to be available when needed, which is about 75% of the time for wind turbines which are about 25% efficient and 85% of the time for solar panels which are about 15% efficient in VT). In essence we pay a highly inflated price for renewables (factoring in the huge per/MWh subsidies which is another part of the boondoggle), and then we pay for the electricity that would have been produced by the generators that instead are offline but ready at a moments notice to jump in when the sun goes behind a cloud or over the horizon and/or the wind subsides.

    • “Capacity Payments”……..Great comment……Important observation!

      We’re now seeing Vermont legislators lining the roads, waving their signs and asking to be re-elected…….The vast majority of these politicians voted for the GWSA.

      It’s time for all of us to stop and ask these folks about the impact of the “capacity payments” on Vermonters. My guess is that 9 out of 10 legislators wouldn’t even know what “capacity payments” are…….Never mind their impact on Vermonters pocketbooks……..Yet they voted for the GWSA and voted again to over ride the Governor’s veto…….That’s known as Ignorance Squared.

    • I read the advance pages of Meredith’s book, and there is plenty in there about Capacity Payments. But I completely agree with Steve’s remarks.

  2. The legislature made the GWSA the law. The law now calls for the assembling of a panel of 23 “experts” to develop a must work plan to deal with climate change or get sued.

    Here’s a question: We know that the lobbyists flooded the legislative hearing rooms when GWSA was being developed. Beyond the lobbyists, what “experts” did the legislature hear from before deciding to pass the GWSA?………Was Meredith Angwin called by the legislature to share her expertise?

    Question two: Will Ms. Angwin be called now to serve on the panel of 23?

    Question three: Is there any question at all that Ms. Angwin could bring more expertise to the panel of 23 than say some one from a “rural area” of Vermont as the GWSA calls for?

    • Peter,
      Meredith Angwin may be called to serve, but likely will be ignored/outvoted.
      Council Members are going to do, what they are going to do, come hell or high water, because GSWA “makes do it”
      That feature of GWSA serves as “cover”.
      They will say: “It is out of our hands/we have got to MEET PARIS”/we are saving the world from Climate Change

      The Legislature already has experts to make energy analyses and give advice.
      Those experts likely will be on the Council, because they are “safe, known entities/familiar faces” to Legislators.

      No wonder Vermont’s Gross CO2 Emissions have been increasing, because their “advice” regarding reducing it, has been, and will be, self-serving and ineffective.
      Their advice has been flawed regarding many of Vermont’s ineffective energy programs for about 20 years.
      Here is an example of the kind of “analysis” they perform for the legislature.


      In reality, the CO2 reduction of the EAN plan would not be achieved, because the analyses are flawed.

      EAN, with help from VT-DPS:

      – Used fudged emission data for electricity, grams CO2/kWh. See Appendix
      – Used Vermont LDV fleet average of 22.7 mpg in 2018. See pg. 4 of URL
      – Did not consider upstream CO2 for heat pumps and electric vehicle analysis
      – Did not consider embodied CO2 of electric vehicles
      – Did not consider annual service calls and spare parts of heat pumps, which reduce overall cost savings
      – Did not consider the amortizing cost of the short life assets.

      EAN claimed a CO2 reduction per EV much higher than in reality.

      If EVs were compared with 30-mpg vehicles, the CO2 reduction would be about 2.13 Mt/y, less than the 4.50 Mt/y claimed by the flawed EAN method, which used the Vermont LDV fleet average of 22.7 mpg, and a CO2/kWh about 8 to 9 times less than the NE grid!!
      With such assumptions, anything can be made to look good to lay people
      The average Vermont person likely would not be able to determine any EAN analysis flaws.

      For realism, EAN should have used my 2019 Subaru Outback, which averages 32 mpg in summer and 29 mpg in winter; has vastly more storage capacity than a medium-size EV, which costs 1.5 to 2 times as much as my Subaru.

      EAN would need 90000 x 4.50/2.13 = 190,141 EVs to achieve its CO2 reduction of 0.405 MMt/y, at end 2025
      Many more people would need to be driving EVs, which would require more capital cost. See table 1A

      EAN claimed a CO2 reduction per ASHP much higher than in reality.

      ASHPs, in average Vermont 2000 ft2 houses, have a CO2 reduction of about 2.389 Mt/y per ASHP, much less than the 4.111 Mt/y per ASHP claimed by the flawed EAN method.

      EAN would need 90000 x 4.111/2.389 = 139,385 ASHPs to achieve its CO2 reduction of 0.37 MMt/y, in 2025
      Much more ASHP capacity would be needed at each site, which would require much more capital cost. See table 1A

      The EAN-claimed energy cost savings per heat pump and per EV were overstated, as confirmed by the CADMUS survey

      Additional explanation is in this URL, which also shows turnkey capital cost estimates:

      EAN performed the flawed analysis likely to:

      – Bamboozle legislators to get them to vote for GWSA (“all we need is this and that, and we will get these fabulous results”)
      – Bamboozle/befuddle most of the rest of Vermonters, who would:

      1) Be suffering GWSA-induced headaches for decades to come
      2) See no discernible effect on the Vermont climate….
      3) The GWSA council in California recently banned the sale of all new gasoline/diesel vehicles in California starting in 2035.
      Will the GWSA council in Vermont follow suit?

  3. Meredith, with over 50 years of energy systems analysis experience, has written a great, easy-to-read, common-sense, book about electric grids.

    During a heat wave in the US Southwest, there is a huge heat dome, during which wind electricity is typically minimal for several days.

    Solar electricity makes its usual appearance around midday, creating huge DUCK CURVES that are difficult to control by grid operators in Germany and in California, both of which went hog-wild installing solar, without thinking of the consequences.

    Germany is lucky, because it has many robust connections to nearby grids to deal with Germany’s large wind/solar disturbances.

    Those grids absorb Germany’s electricity surpluses and provide electricity when Germany is short, AND THEY MAKE MONEY DOING IT AT GERMANY’s EXPENSE; buying low and selling high!

    California also has robust connections to nearby grids, but those grids have limited capacity to supply electricity, when the HUGE California market is short.

    California is short, because it unwisely shut down 15 of its 19, ocean-shore, CLEAN BURNING, HIGHLY EFFICIENT, GAS PLANTS, THAT PRODUCE LOW-COST ELECTRICITY, because they use the HUGE PACIFIC OCEAN for cooling water.

    “GWSA-Council environmentalist bureaucrats” are of the ludicrous opinion that those evil plants heat up the HUGE PACIFIC OCEAN.

    The results often are rolling blackouts.

    California passed its GWSA law SIXTEEN YEARS before Vermont, so it is way ahead of Vermont towards its “NIRVANA”, as dreamt up by environmentalists, to save the world from climate change.

    California has an all-knowing COUNCIL, just as Vermont will have, due to its very own GWSA law, passed by a purely-partisan majority.

    California council members say, if California had built enough batteries, all such problems would not have been so bad.

    However, California would need, not MWh, not GWh, but TERAWATT-HOUR CAPACITY to cover its shortages for several days, and even more battery capacity, if it were to shutdown the remaining four ocean-shore gas plants.

    Each TERAWATT-HOUR is one billion kWh.
    Current turnkey capital costs of large-scale, engineered, battery systems are about $500/kWh, delivered as AC.

    Many Californians, with options, are voting with their feet to go to other states.
    Many Californians, without options, are stuck

  4. Meredith, thanks for helping us, the general public and rate payer, understand the risk to our electric grid reliability and cost impact sneakily legislated by those who are removing the democratic freedom of this essential need.

    Looking forward to your new book, “Shorting The Grid”.

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