The independent agency that regulates America’s interstate electricity and natural gas transmission systems is holding a special forum in Portland on June 20 to discuss potential solutions to the winter supply bottlenecks that have sent New England’s power prices soaring and threatened reliability.

Four commissioners of the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are expected to attend the day-long event at the DoubleTree hotel in South Portland. Topping the agenda is the future of a liquified natural gas terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. The terminal plays an important role in supplying fuel to power plants and keeping the lights on during the coldest days, when New England’s too-small pipeline system is strained to capacity.

The high cost of shipping imported LNG through the terminal is a key factor that drove Maine’s electricity rates to record levels last winter. The Press Herald last fall detailed the price impact of LNG imports for the state’s electric customers, estimated at an extra $22 a month.

Also planned is a panel discussion of an energy-risk study on the impact of extreme weather on grid operations. Another panel will look ahead to longer-term solutions to the region’s tight power supplies, including new transmission lines, offshore wind and more solar development.

The forum will be live streamed; information is available on a FERC website dedicated to the event.

The Portland forum is a follow-up to one held last fall in Burlington, Vermont. That session highlighted differences of opinion on how to solve New England’s winter energy shortfall – upgrade the region’s natural gas infrastructure or accelerate the shift to renewable energy sources.


Roughly half of the region’s generating capacity is fueled by natural gas. But New England doesn’t have enough pipeline capacity now to serve both power plants and heating needs on the coldest winter days, a direct result of opposition by environmental activists who have fought building new lines in southern New England. Groups such as Acadia Center favor strategies such as greater efficiency, and encouraging people and businesses to shift energy use to off-peak times, as ways to bolster winter reliability in the short term without expanding climate-changing fossil fuel use. More solar, wind and battery storage could displace gas over time, they’ve said.

FERC’s second visit to New England in nine months signals that the agency is taking a special interest in the region’s grid operations, according to Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association and a panelist at the forum.

“Clearly, there’s a lot of attention on winter reliability in New England,” Dolan said. “The existing energy mix is changing. Some facilities are due to retire, while new sources are being integrated into the region.”

The Portland forum will feature panelists from government and industry, including ISO-New England, the region’s grid operator, and state regulators such as Philip Bartlett, chair of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Attendees are expected to come from gas and electric utilities, state energy agencies and environmental advocacy groups.

To help stabilize volatile power supply rates, the region will need a more diverse mix of generation and new transmission links from outside New England, Bartlett said. An example is the combination of building the stalled New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line from Quebec through Maine and increasing solar generation.

“There is no single solution to address that,” Bartlett said of the winter shortfall, “but we can make adjustments to the regional wholesale markets, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and increase our ability to import electricity from other regions.”


The forum will begin with a presentation by ISO New England on the upcoming winter and the 2024-25 season, with a focus on the Everett Marine Terminal’s availability and impact on the electric grid. The panel discussion is called: “Should Everett be retained, and if so, how?”

The terminal’s owner has a contract to import 206 billion cubic feet of natural gas between 2019 and 2024, mostly from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. The terminal can store enough gas to power more than 4,000 megawatts of generation for several days, enough to light 4 million homes.

The terminal is connected to the adjacent Mystic Generating Station, both of which are owned by Baltimore-based Constellation Energy. The 1,400-megawatt-capacity power plant and terminal have a synergistic relationship. The plant provides an outlet for some of the gas being unloaded at the terminal. Mystic also plays a role in assuring reliable electric service in the Boston area.

ISO-New England has authorized hundreds of millions of dollars in customer charges in recent years to keep Mystic online. But after a cost-of-service dispute with ISO-New England didn’t go its way, Constellation’s then-parent company, Exelon Corp., announced in 2020 that it would close Mystic in 2024. That left the economic viability and fate of Everett LNG – the nation’s largest LNG import terminal – up in the air.

Bartlett said the challenge now is making sure LNG is available when needed in the region.

A couple of smaller LNG import terminals in Massachusetts and one in New Brunswick, Canada, could help, but each faces its own challenges in offsetting Everett’s contribution.

Looking ahead to next winter, Bartlett said, the PUC will be deciding soon whether to make changes to the once-a-year bidding process it now conducts for electricity supply through the standard offer, which is how most Maine homes and small businesses buy power. Wholesale natural gas prices have fallen sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine scrambled global energy markets. Experts expect power supply rates to be much lower in 2024, but there’s pressure on the PUC to flatten the recent roller coaster.

“We anticipate opening a proceeding in the near future,” he said, “to explore whether there are ways to modify our standard offer procurement process to reduce volatility for customers.”

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