Cold Snap Sparks Interest in Backup Fuels
January 11, 2018
A quick wrap-up of how the northeast US electricity system fared during
the recent cold snap:
The Electric Grid mostly operated reliably. As an example, ISO New
England maintained a capacity margin over 1,000 MW throughout
the cold weather and storms (Ref. 1).
A lot of oil was used. At points over 1/3 of New England's electricity
was being supplied by oil-fired generation; annually oil generation
is <1% of the total (Ref. 2).
Natural gas got expensive. The spot-market price for natural gas
exceeded $75/MMBtu at the Algonquin Citygate (the main trading hub for New England). That’s more than ten times the normal price (Ref. 3).
Grid operators became concerned about oil inventories & supplies. ISO New England stated “managing the region’s power system through these conditions continues to be challenging, primarily because of fuel availability” and “some oil-fired generation is nearing emissions limitations” (Ref. 1).
State officials considered stepping in. Matthew Beaton, Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary, said the administration would temporarily waive any emissions limits if they interfere with providing enough power to keep the lights on (Ref. 4).
State regulators are aware of the need for backup fuel in emergencies. New Jersey DEP recently proposed rule revisions to simplify firing liquid fuel “during significant weather events and their aftermath” (Ref. 5).
Epsilon Associates received queries from large and small clients asking about options to use backup fuels during extreme weather conditions. Broadly:
Many facilities that operate using natural gas only can be retrofitted for ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) or propane backup firing. Such a retrofit would typically require modifying the facility’s air permit, and addressing site issues such as spill planning for the new fuel equipment.
Facilities that have backup fuels often have restrictions on the use of that fuel, including prohibitions on using the backup when natural gas is available, and limitations on the amount of backup fuel use. Those restrictions can be eased or lifted through the air permit modification process, by demonstrating that best available control technology will be used and that ambient air quality standards will be protected.
Epsilon can assist asset owners and operators in reviewing options to allow for more reliable, economic operation during winter events. Contact Steve Slocomb, PE or Joe Sabato, CCM at 978-897-7100.
Ref. 5: http://www.nj.gov/dep/rules/proposals/20170807a.pdf, pages 12-13.