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

The unexpected, severe heat and humidity that surprised theregions last Monday and Tuesday caught many operators with theirplants down for spring season maintenance, which left the powergrid without adequate reserves. Grid operators and utilities wereforced to tell the public to reduce power demand or face rollingblackouts.

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

The New England Independent System Operator found itself in theuncomfortable position of having to warn the public of a springpower shortage at the same time it was forecasting adequate summerpower supplies.

ISO New England issued a power watch on Monday, and thePennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection and its memberutilities were sending out a near constant stream of warnings earlyin the week. While PJM members warned of potential rollingblackouts, grid operators requested emergency energy from otherregions and issued power reserve warnings, maximum emergencygeneration notices and voltage reduction warnings.

The situation forced Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Lt. Gov. MarkSchweiker and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman JohnQuain to urge Pennsylvanians to “immediately reduce electricity useto prevent the need for controlled power interruptions, or ‘rollingblackouts,’ later today.”

“This unusual spring heat wave has placed a strain on the powerdistribution system in the Mid-Atlantic states,” Schweiker said.”It is important that we all take immediate steps to reduce our useof 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 ruralelectric cooperatives to monitor this situation,” said Quain. “Inaddition to the steps we are taking, we are purchasing additionalpower from unaffected areas in neighboring power pools.”

The Department of General Services implemented a plan tosignificantly reduce the electric use of state offices andfacilities across Pennsylvania.

“This is a heavy maintenance time of year for us and certainlythese are unusual conditions weatherwise to be experiencing,”Cynthia Taylor, spokeswoman for PJM, said on Tuesday. “Our summerpeak loads are driven by the temperature humidity index and we aregetting some fairly high indexes right now. [We’re] in somewhat ofa capacity-short situation, or energy shortage.

“There’s about 10,000 MW of generation equipment that isscheduled 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 atthis point hitting about 44,000 MW [in demand]. Our forecast fortoday is 45,000 MW, which is even higher than yesterday when wewere around 43,600 MW. If you’ve been tracking the emergencymessages, that’s what you’ve been seeing. There’s only a 1,000 MWreserve right now. We basically do not have the reserves on thesystem that we normally would want to carry. The reserverequirement is [supposed] to be about 1,700 MW.”

In addition to the maintenance scheduled, Taylor said the newgeneration that has been added to the grid “has been approximatelycanceling out some of the retirements. So there hasn’t been allthat much [supply] growth in this particular calendar year. There’sa large amount of generation that is in queues waiting to connectto 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 expectrolling blackouts. Extremely high demand for electricity may exceedthe region’s electric supply, the New Jersey utility said. “Wecould be in a very serious situation by early to late afternoon.”Baltimore Gas & Electric, Potomac Electric Power and PECOEnergy, all of which are on the PJM grid, issued calls foremergency power reductions.

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) also asked allelectric utilities in New York State to take measures to reducepower needs. Consolidated Edison, and Niagara Mohawk made publicappeals for curbing electricity usage. The utilities also askedtheir large customers to restrict unnecessary electricityconsumption.

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

“Although ISO New England is forecasting record-setting demandthis summer, several new power plants are expected to be on line intime for the summer peak season,” said ISO spokesman James B.Sinclair. “The addition of this new capacity, along with afavorable outlook for the availability of the region’s nuclearplants, results in an overall improvement in the level ofelectricity supplies as compared to the past few summers.”

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

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

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

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

“A high level of import power is expected during peak loadconditions with planned net interchange greater than 2,900 MW,” theECAR report stated. “ECAR members recognize that severe weather(abnormally hot and humid) or unexpectedly low generatoravailability could make it necessary to curtail load beyondcontractually interruptible loads and demand side management.”

Rocco Canonica

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