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.
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.