Heat, Humidity Push Northeast to Record Demand Levels

Severe heat and humidity in the Northeast last week led to record power demand and high prices in the region before a cold front swept through on Friday. The Pennsylvania New Jersey Maryland Interconnection (PJM), the New England Independent System Operator and the New York Independent System Operator all issued various alerts and requests for additional supply and conservation.

PJM set a new all-time peak for power demand Wednesday of 52,200 MW, breaking Tuesday's record of 51,798 MW. The Mid Atlantic grid operator also issued a Voltage Reduction Warning indicating the possibility of emergency procedures, including cutting interruptible (IT) customers or implementing a reduction in customer voltage to preserve the integrity of the region's electric power grid. A spokeswoman said IT was cut, but she said there were no final numbers by yesterday evening. PSE&G, GPU, Pepco and other regional utilities all urged conservation to help prevent possible power supply problems.

On the PJM grid, Pepco activated several demand reduction programs. More than 163,000 residential customers in the Pepco programs volunteer to allow Pepco to cycle their air conditioners off-and-on periodically on weekday afternoons for no longer than six hours. More than 300 commercial and governmental customers have agreed to reduce their demand as well.

Power prices in the eastern portion of the PJM market also bumped up against the $1,000/MWh cap for peak demand hours yesterday, marking the ninth occasion in the past four years that has happened, the PJM spokeswoman said.

Energy prices also soared to $1,000 MWh in New England on Tuesday, according to the ISO, which called for interruptible curtailments and public conservation. The ISO issued a request for bids for 300-500 MW of power throughout the day as temperatures and humidity made it feel like more than 100 degrees. Tuesday's load reached 23,709 MW -- higher than peak summer design -- while total available capacity was 26,163 MW.

In New York, Con Edison reported a new peak in power demand Wednesday due to the heat. The utility said it hit a new peak at 2 p.m. EDT by providing 11,858 MW to its 3.1 million customers. The new benchmark eclipsed the previous record of 11,850 MW set on July 6, 1999. The previous peak for this year was set on Tuesday when the company provided 11,355 MW of electric power to its customers. Other regional utilities, including Cinergy, GPU and Detroit Edison were near or above prior peaks.

Power reserves for the Long Island Power Authority fell "perilously close to available supply" on Wednesday as demand hit a new record of 4,614 MW, prompting previously unused conservation efforts. Chairman Richard Kessel said the authority would accelerate its efforts to find additional supply and improve conservation and efficiency programs. LIPA delivered 4,445 MW of electricity to its customers during the hour ending at 5 p.m., and delivered another 169 MW to Long Island Choice customers. When combined, it set a new aggregate peak record. The previous record of 4590 MW was set on July 6, 1999. The company said there was a margin of only 150 MW between firm supply and customer demand, but at one point during the day it had less than 100 MW of supply to meet projected demand. Had demand not been reduced through conservation, LIPA would have had to initiate emergency measures that could have included running equipment at higher than normal conditions, ordering the use of privately owned generators and voltage reductions.

Kessel said that as a result of the experience he would order immediate acceleration of LIPA's three pronged energy plan: accelerate spending on clean energy initiative programs aimed at conservation and energy efficiency efforts for next year by $5 million dollars; review in cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council and KeySpan whether or not additional repowering could be done at LI generation facilities; seek the expeditious review and approval of the new Cross-Sound Project cable route from New Haven to Shoreham, while exploring other cable links to off-island resources; and seek sites for several additional turbines that would augment the projects already being planned for Far Rockaway, Glenwood Landing and Shoreham for next summer.

"We're fortunate that we have had a fairly cool summer so far," said Kessel. "As we have been emphasizing since early February, our energy supply on Long Island for this summer is tight. And, if we don't increase our available resources significantly by next summer, we'll have an energy supply shortage that could mean rolling blackouts during sustained heat waves." LIPA owns the retail electric system on Long Island, and provides electric service to nearly 1.1 million customers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.

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