Winter is coming, and fuel prices are expected to rise during the colder months. Representatives of Cape Light Compact shared with The Times what led to these conditions, and how Islanders can prepare for the upcoming season.
One of the biggest factors affecting electricity rates is the war in Ukraine. “Because of the war in Ukraine, Russia has slowed its export of natural gas to Europe. So Europe is more dependent on importing natural gas from elsewhere than they have been in the past,” Cape Light Compact power supply planner Mariel Marchand said. “In New England, we are natural gas–constrained, which means that there’s a limited amount of pipeline capacity that can get natural gas into New England. So during a prolonged cold snap, we depend on LNG [liquified natural gas], which is very unique in the U.S.”
Liquified natural gas is defined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration as “natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state (liquefied), at about -260° Fahrenheit, for shipping and storage.” Most of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. is produced domestically, but some of it is imported to help meet demands. The administration states that 99 percent of natural gas imports to the United States in 2021 came from Canada. Of the total 2021 U.S. natural gas imports, 1 percent was liquified natural gas, with 99 percent of the supply coming from Trinidad and Tobago. According to the Massachusetts Pipeline Safety Division, the state receives its natural gas from wells located in the southern U.S., western Canada, and in the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia.
Marchand said New England is the only U.S. region importing liquified natural gas. Additionally, information from Cape Light Compact states that 45 percent of New England electricity comes from “natural gas–fired power plants,” and the region has experienced a 300 percent increase in natural gas prices since last year.
“Because we’re importing LNG, and a lot of LNG right now is going to Europe to make up for that reduced supply coming from Russia, we’re kind of competing, and forced to price in those European LNG prices,” she said.
Another factor driving up electricity prices is the lagging pace at which renewable energy sources have replaced fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. “We’ve always been pipeline-constrained. This isn’t something new. But 10 years ago you had coal, clean fossil fuel plants, you had nuclear. We’ve shut down all of our oil and coal plants, which is a good thing. We’ve shut down [Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station],” Cape Light Compact administrator Maggie Downey said. “At the same time, our rate of renewables was not developing fast enough. In a perfect world, they would’ve been in sync.”
What can Islanders do to prepare for the winter? Downey said people can call Cape Light Compact’s 1-800 numbers for an energy assessment, which can be done at both residential and commercial units. “We will send out an auditor to look at opportunities to reduce your energy usage, whether it’s through lighting, insulation, mechanicals, motors, equipment, refrigeration. All of those things, they’re very similar in nature as to what we’re reviewing to put in to make your business more energy-efficient, your home more comfortable, your home energy-efficient,” Downey said, adding that it may take some time for someone to come to the Island due to the high demand.
Downey said an important step residents should take is reviewing their electricity bills. Some residents may qualify for an “income-eligible discount rate.”
“If you are, you should sign up for it, because it gives you a 36 percent discount off your total electric bill,” she said, adding that the bills can also show past electricity usage and whether someone is paying for the best electric supply. A similar option is “budget billing,” which can help “smooth out” higher electric bills during the winter.
Immediate steps people can take are practical ones, including unplugging unused electric appliances, air-sealing windows, and making sure you have heating and humidifying units appropriately sized for their unit.
“It’s just being aware of your whole energy sphere, which the Vineyard is very in tune with,” Downey said.
Downey also suggested people get smart power strips for things such as entertainment consoles. “It doesn’t turn off your entire system, but it turns off things that don’t need to be on all the time,” she said.
There are also long-term renewable energy options people can pursue, such as solar panels. Downey said Cape Light Compact currently has “a proposal called Cape and Vineyard Electrification Offering,” to be reviewed for approval by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.
“It’s an offering pilot. We’re looking for a hundred customers who either power heat with oil or propane, or have electric resistance, to participate in this program. Eighty customers will live in deed-restricted properties, and what we will do is we will come in and … remove the fossil fuel heating system and install air-sourced heat pumps and pair that with solar P.V. array, and for a limited number of customers, batteries for resiliency,” Downey said. She said that, if approved, the hope is to start enrolling and marketing the program by the end of January.
Consumers can also go to the Mass Save store, a link to which is also on the Cape Light Compact website, which has deals for products and appliances that come with rebates for energy conservation.
Downey said further information can be found on the Cape Light Compact website.