Will fuel supply chain issues leave some families out in the cold this winter?

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 6:12 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Keeping the heat on might be tougher this winter. The nonprofit ISO New England advises utilities ahead of the winter season. And this year, they’re predicting that a lot of cold snaps and supply chain issues could hurt the supply of natural gas and backup fuels, too.

“It’s an alarm for the region as a whole,” said Marc Brown, the executive director of the Consumer Energy Alliance New England, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable energy resources.

Brown is referring to ISO New England’s recent winter outlook report which expresses concerns related to cold weather, high fuel process and supply chain issues, and how it could change system operations.

“It’s a wake-up call in New England. We have too much reliance on natural gas and supplies are constrained,” said Darren Springer, the general manager of the Burlington Electric Department.

ISO New England President Gordon Van Welie says, “The region would be in a precarious position if an extended cold snap were to develop and these fuels were not available.”

Brown notes ISO New England releases a winter outlook report yearly, but this is a little different.

“You’re talking about a global supply issue with high prices. That sort of thing could lead to more shortages than we’ve had in the past when it comes to fuel supply,” Brown said.

ISO New England explains that softening the impact could include importing emergency power and asking residents to conserve energy.

They say the worst-case scenario to maintain the grid would be implementing controlled outages.

But as a state with an emphasis on renewable energy and lots of electricity from Hydro-Quebec, should Vermont be worried?

“Vermont is in a good position, and it’s always good to plan ahead, look forward, and be prepared-- and we are,” said Kristin Kelly, the spokesperson for Green Mountain Power.

Kelly notes Vermont is a leader in alternative solutions, such as, “Residential battery storage, utility-scale battery storage paired with local renewables-- that provides extra flexibility and a great layer of protection and an added tool for us in Vermont.”

Springer adds woodfire plants help, too.

“Having a local renewable plant like McNeil that can store fuel on-site and run 24/7 during the winter can help the region’s reliance on fossil fuels,” Springer said.

Gov. Phil Scott agrees, saying he hasn’t heard anything to be worried about just yet.

“Some of what we’ve done over the last number of years in terms of solar panel energy supplies and so forth, I believe that that has helped,” said Scott, R-Vermont.

It’s too early to know how bad the weather will be this year, and a lot would have to happen before the alarm bells are sounded. But the goal of this yearly forecast is to let local utilities prepare in case of an emergency.

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