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ISO-NE Meeting Attracts Natural Gas Protestors

Brett Feldman — September 22, 2016

Oil and Gas ProductionMost regional transmission organization (RTO) stakeholder meetings are about the most dry, boring, and technical sessions you could imagine, usually consisting of a bunch of energy policy wonks debating market rules and cost allocation. But once in a while, something will happen to liven up the scene in an unexpected way. Such was the case at the September 15 Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE) Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.

It started out as a typical CLG meeting. Heavy hotel lunch, meeting introduction from the chairperson, ISO-NE update, policy keynote speaker. Then the fun began with a panel on energy infrastructure projects in Rhode Island. First up was the CEO of Deepwater Wind, the developer of the first US offshore wind project to be completed, a 30 MW installation located off of Block Island. Offshore wind used to be controversial in the days of Cape Wind, but now it seems to have become more accepted, and there were no vocal naysayers at this meeting.

Natural Gas Power Plants

Next up was Invenergy, the developer of a new proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Rhode Island. The speaker outlined the basics of the project and made the case for the ISO-NE grid’s need for it. As he got into more of the details of the emissions and gas pipeline needs, a woman stood up on the side of the room and silently held up a sign in opposition to the proposed plant. That action alone was more excitement than is typically seen at one of these meetings, but it was just the appetizer.

Next, a speaker from Spectra Energy (soon to be part of Enbridge) took to the podium. Before he could get too far into his remarks about natural gas pipeline projects in New England, several audience members stood up and walked toward the stage. Two held signs opposing gas pipelines and one acted as the voice for the group, talking loudly to the speaker and the audience about the dangers of fracking.

The speaker from Spectra was obviously used to these types of demonstrations, as he calmly proclaimed that he welcomed the group at the meeting, as long as they didn’t disrupt the event and spoke when the allotted time for questions and answers arrived. The group persisted for a few minutes, but eventually went back to their seats. No need to call in the National Guard.

It was a fresh reminder to me that the discussions undertaken and decisions made in these often esoteric venues have effects on real people in the public and on the land and environment. I honestly don’t think most of the people in the room would disagree with the concern over issues with natural gas extraction and delivery. There is just a difference in opinion over the best path forward for our shared energy future from a cost, reliability, and environmental standpoint. It was a very respectful example of our free society at work.

Now back to those less-than-respectful election campaigns!

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