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Northeast Heat, Midwest Storms Trouble Grid Operators

Northeast Heat, Midwest Storms Trouble Grid Operators

If this spring is any indication of what's to come this summer, utility and power grid operators in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions might want to say a few extra prayers for electric reliability and affordable power.

The unexpected, severe heat and humidity that surprised the regions last Monday and Tuesday caught many operators with their plants down for spring season maintenance, which left the power grid without adequate reserves. Grid operators and utilities were forced to tell the public to reduce power demand or face rolling blackouts.

The situation triggered record high hourly power prices of $6,000/MWh for four hours Monday afternoon in New England and real-time quotes as high as $3,800/MWh in New York City Tuesday afternoon. And we're still two months away from when power demand usually peaks.

The New England Independent System Operator found itself in the uncomfortable position of having to warn the public of a spring power shortage at the same time it was forecasting adequate summer power supplies.

ISO New England issued a power watch on Monday, and the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection and its member utilities were sending out a near constant stream of warnings early in the week. While PJM members warned of potential rolling blackouts, grid operators requested emergency energy from other regions and issued power reserve warnings, maximum emergency generation notices and voltage reduction warnings.

The situation forced Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman John Quain to urge Pennsylvanians to "immediately reduce electricity use to prevent the need for controlled power interruptions, or 'rolling blackouts,' later today."

"This unusual spring heat wave has placed a strain on the power distribution system in the Mid-Atlantic states," Schweiker said. "It is important that we all take immediate steps to reduce our use of electricity at home and at work."

The PJM power pool implemented a 5% voltage reduction at 2 p.m. Tuesday to ease pressure on the distribution system.

"We are in constant contact with our utilities and the rural electric cooperatives to monitor this situation," said Quain. "In addition to the steps we are taking, we are purchasing additional power from unaffected areas in neighboring power pools."

The Department of General Services implemented a plan to significantly reduce the electric use of state offices and facilities across Pennsylvania.

"This is a heavy maintenance time of year for us and certainly these are unusual conditions weatherwise to be experiencing," Cynthia Taylor, spokeswoman for PJM, said on Tuesday. "Our summer peak loads are driven by the temperature humidity index and we are getting some fairly high indexes right now. [We're] in somewhat of a capacity-short situation, or energy shortage.

"There's about 10,000 MW of generation equipment that is scheduled out of service right now out of a total of 56,000 MW. Right now, I'm actually looking at the graph board and we are at this point hitting about 44,000 MW [in demand]. Our forecast for today is 45,000 MW, which is even higher than yesterday when we were around 43,600 MW. If you've been tracking the emergency messages, that's what you've been seeing. There's only a 1,000 MW reserve right now. We basically do not have the reserves on the system that we normally would want to carry. The reserve requirement is [supposed] to be about 1,700 MW."

In addition to the maintenance scheduled, Taylor said the new generation that has been added to the grid "has been approximately canceling out some of the retirements. So there hasn't been all that much [supply] growth in this particular calendar year. There's a large amount of generation that is in queues waiting to connect to the system. Those projects are in various stages of completion. But right now we're growing slowly."

Public Service Electric & Gas told the public to expect rolling blackouts. Extremely high demand for electricity may exceed the region's electric supply, the New Jersey utility said. "We could be in a very serious situation by early to late afternoon." Baltimore Gas & Electric, Potomac Electric Power and PECO Energy, all of which are on the PJM grid, issued calls for emergency power reductions.

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) also asked all electric utilities in New York State to take measures to reduce power needs. Consolidated Edison, and Niagara Mohawk made public appeals for curbing electricity usage. The utilities also asked their large customers to restrict unnecessary electricity consumption.

Despite the bad weather and poor maintenance planning last week, ISO New England said summer power supply would be adequate to meet demand.

"Although ISO New England is forecasting record-setting demand this summer, several new power plants are expected to be on line in time for the summer peak season," said ISO spokesman James B. Sinclair. "The addition of this new capacity, along with a favorable outlook for the availability of the region's nuclear plants, results in an overall improvement in the level of electricity supplies as compared to the past few summers."

The ISO expects demand to peak at 23,250 MW up 706 MW from the record of 22,544 MW set on July 6, 1999. Meanwhile, it expects supply to be 2,000 MW greater than last summer when there were 12 power watches and warnings.

Sinclair also noted, however, that there could be "between 20 and 30 days annually" when it must issue alerts and take steps to line up additional supplies and reduce electricity demand.

ECAR also released its summer reliability forecast last week but its predictions were not quite as rosy. ECAR said despite a small rise (to 11.2% from 10.8%) in generating capacity reserves in the region, it still expects another summer of tight supply and demand.

Demand for the region is forecast to be up 3% to 99,007 MW during July from 96,149 MW last July. Available capacity is expected to rise 2.6% to 111,157 MW in July from 108,377 MW last year because of the scheduled addition of some new generating plants and recommissioning of several mothballed units.

"A high level of import power is expected during peak load conditions with planned net interchange greater than 2,900 MW," the ECAR report stated. "ECAR members recognize that severe weather (abnormally hot and humid) or unexpectedly low generator availability could make it necessary to curtail load beyond contractually interruptible loads and demand side management."

Rocco Canonica

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