By Matt Mincieli and Kelly Speakes-Backman

It’s the equivalent of adding 2 lanes at rush hour

Massachusetts policymakers face a serious choice in 2018: do they meet impending reliability challenges with 20th Century technologies that require interminable and inevitable battles over infrastructure siting, or do they cement the Commonwealth’s role as an international leader and solve these challenges with price competitive advanced clean energy technologies?

A January 18, 2018, fuel security analysis report from the Independent System Operator of New England underscored the urgency of this decision. After modeling 23 different scenarios for 2024, the analysis concluded that “all but four scenarios result in fuel shortages requiring rolling blackouts, indicating the trends affecting New England’s power system may intensify the region’s fuel-security risk.” The analysis attributes the impending fuel shortage to many factors, including the region’s dependency on natural gas and pipeline constraints, as well as recent and impending retirements of 4,600 megawatts of oil, coal, and nuclear power plants by 2021, which together represent more than 10 percent of the region’s total installed capacity.

As one of six states that make up a regional electric grid, Massachusetts is facing serious reliability challenges that have long-term impacts on our health, safety, economy, and environment. Given our commitments under the Global Warming Solutions Act, the proposed solutions to these reliability challenges should not be to site new pipelines, which is unlikely to happen and will result in stranded costs. Neither should the solution be to encourage the use of more dual fuel units that jeopardize our right to clean air and energy independence.

Energy storage needs to play a prominent role in any solution to this reliability crisis. We agree with Gov. Charlie Baker’s statement at the State of the Commonwealth on the investments the state is making in the development of energy storage. “By helping to bridge the gaps in peak demand, expanded storage will boost the effectiveness of wind and solar power, provide further price relief for ratepayers, and pave the way for a cleaner and more reliable energy future,” he said.

Energy storage technologies store power generated at off-peak times and discharge the power to meet high demand during on-peak times. In that way, storage is the equivalent of adding two lanes to the expressway, but only during rush hour every day. Storage can be constructed in a matter of months and requires neither new pipelines nor a large land footprint to provide power. Multiple jurisdictions have deployed energy storage to overcome similar reliability challenges. A massive gas leak at Aliso Canyon in California disrupted supply to gas-fired generators and threatened the reliability of the electric grid. Within just months, enormous energy storage power plants came online and enabled California to avoid blackouts. In South Australia, which was plagued by regional blackouts in recent years, Elon Musk delivered on his promise to build 100 megawatts of battery storage within 100 days, which has since stabilized the electric grid. And aggregations of energy storage at businesses and homes are reducing grid stress during periods of peak demand in New York, California, and Arizona.

Energy storage also presents a more cost-effective solution for Commonwealth businesses and households. Not only is storage competitive with gas peakers today and potentially cheaper than mid-merit gas generators when combined with renewables and demand response, but it can also avoid the high expense of constructing the pipelines needed to fuel those generators and extend the life of existing transmission & distribution investments to save ratepayers additional money.

The Baker Administration and state legislators have taken initial steps to get energy storage off the ground in the Commonwealth. However, we now need to implement longer-term, comprehensive policies that position storage to solve the Commonwealth’s upcoming reliability issues.

With the industry converging on Boston in April for the leading national conference on energy storage, TechNet and the Energy Storage Association look forward to collaborating with the Massachusetts Legislature, the executive branch, and the attorney general’s office to pass energy storage legislation this session, thus ensuring the Commonwealth maintains its nation-leading status and that ratepayers receive affordable, reliable energy.

Matt Mincieli is the northeast region executive director of TechNet and Kelly Speakes-Backman is the CEO of the Energy Storage Association.