Senators from Connecticut, Vermont and Maine called on the Biden administration Tuesday to bring together federal, state and regional officials to find ways to prevent possible energy disruptions this winter across New England.
The senators, three Democrats and two independents, said the region is heavily dependent on natural gas and feeling the impacts of the war in Ukraine and tight global energy supplies. They urged Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to leverage resources within her department to help bring non-fossil fuel energy online as quickly as possible in the region and to review any emergency powers that could be used to ensure energy needs are fulfilled without price spikes or supply disruptions.
“With the upcoming winter season comes a real threat to energy reliability for residents and businesses in New England,” wrote Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King Jr. of Maine. “Global events caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are exacerbating the risk that the region will not have the fuel supplies needed to maintain heat and power during an extended cold snap.”
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The Energy Department said in a statement to The Associated Press that it’s closely monitoring winter fuel availability, especially if the weather is colder than expected, and preparing to address any resulting risks. It added that the region is expected to have sufficient energy during a mild to moderate winter and temperatures are expected to be warmer than average along the Atlantic coast.
The senators, who sent the letter Tuesday, said New England states have been working to replace fossil fuels with clean energy sources such as offshore wind and hydropower. However, the region remains heavily reliant on natural gas, liquified natural gas and heating oil to “bridge supply gaps during the coldest stretch of New England winters,” they wrote.
Granholm held a virtual meeting with New England governors in September to discuss preparations to mitigate potential energy shortfalls this winter. She told them the administration will work with states to navigate the various risks to energy and electricity reliability and affordability.
The letter to Granholm comes nearly a month after Joseph Nolan, CEO of Eversource Energy, a major utility in New England, asked President Joe Biden “to swiftly address the growing concerns about winter electric reliability in New England” and help ensure there is enough natural gas to meet the region’s electric power generation needs. Eversource said it has not yet received a response from the White House.
The operator of the New England power grid expects to be able to meet winter power demand if conditions are mild or moderate, ISO New England spokesperson Matthew Kakley said Tuesday. The challenges come during prolonged periods of cold weather, when oil or liquefied natural gas supplies may be used more quickly than they can be replenished, Kakley added, but they believe there will be enough fuel to import if needed.
The conditions that cause controlled power outages are pretty extreme, he said, and they have plans and procedures aimed at trying to head off any outages before they happen.
The region is also bracing for soaring energy costs. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, is working on getting Congress to add more money in December to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, to make additional heating aid available for the winter. He said the funding won’t solve the problem for everyone but it’ll help significantly.
“We’re shooting for at least $4 billion,” he said last week. “I’m asking for $5 billion because I think we have to tackle this head-on, this whole issue of soaring energy prices.”
The rising cost of heating oil is a problem in the Northeast, since 4.1 million households there rely on that fuel during winter. That’s 82% of all U.S. households that use heating oil, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.
If heating oil costs roughly $5.50 to $6 a gallon as projected, an average household will spend about $2,900 on it this winter, compared with $1,860 last winter and $1,212 two years ago, the association said.
Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, said Tuesday these are the highest prices for home heating oil since 2008, and they’re far higher than other fuel types. Wolfe said he worries some families will turn down the heat to dangerous levels and cut back on other essentials to pay the bills, and the New England delegation has reason to be alarmed.