Even if mother nature plans to be unusually harsh on North America this winter, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) said power customers can rest easy because power generation capacity margins are “adequate.”

NERC sees little change in power generation capacity margins this winter compared to last. The total U.S. capacity margin, including uncommitted power generation resources, is about 36.6%. Canada’s situation, however, is much tighter with about a 16.9% capacity margin. Nevertheless, NERC President Rick Sergel declared North America’s electricity generating capacity, transmission systems, and generation fuels sufficient for this winter.

In its 2006/2007 Winter Assessment, the reliability organization for the U.S., Canada and part of Mexico said even with peak demands 3-8% higher than the base forecast, consumers should be safe from outages.

Total demand is expected to reach 590,530 MW in the United States and 89,417 MW in Canada, while net capacity resources are expected to total 887,381 MW in the U.S. and 107,636 in Canada, with an additional 43,624 MW of uncommitted capacity in the U.S. The total capacity margin in the NERC reliability footprint, including northwestern portions of Mexico, is 31.7% without uncommitted resources and 34.5% with uncommitted resources.

A number of areas that had red flags last winter have shown improvements over the course of the year, including southwestern Connecticut and Boston, which have had transmission reinforcements, and the Powder River Basin, which has shown significantly improved coal deliveries.

Two new 345 kV transmission cables have been added in the Boston area and one new 345 kV circuit was added in southwestern Connecticut, which significantly improved reliability in these areas.

Peak demand this winter is expected to be higher than last winter in all areas except New England, Texas, the Southwest, and parts of Missouri. In New England, electricity price increases in 2005 and in 2006 were the biggest factors in the lower peak demand forecast for this winter. Colder-than-normal weather last winter in the other areas is the primary reason this winter’s forecasts are lower than last year’s actual demands, NERC said.

Transmission capacity is expected to be adequate for reliability purposes, but some constraints may recur that may limit desired market transactions, the reliability organization said. The TVA transmission system and critical flowgates in the ReliabilityFirst region have experienced large and volatile power flows in recent years due to large power transfers across and through these systems. If such flows occur again this winter, operators may be required to limit power exchanges to maintain system reliability, according to the report.

Sergel also noted that peak natural gas demand conditions in the winter always make fuel availability for generation a concern, particularly because of the dramatic increases in gas-fired generation over the last five year.

Texas has the highest dependence on natural gas for electricity generation (70%), with about one-fourth of gas-fueled capacity possessing the ability to switch to oil for limited periods if natural gas supply is interrupted or unavailable. New England and Florida, which also have a high dependence on natural gas, have taken steps to avoid problems by coordinating more closely with natural gas pipeline operators.

New England has also converted about 1,700 MW of natural gas-only capacity to dual-fuel capability since last winter. NERC also noted that natural gas storage levels are near record highs, which should increase supply reliability during the winter.

For more from the winter assessment, go to https://www.nerc.com/.

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