If this week 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. The last two days of unexpected, severe heat andhumidity strained available power supplies, forcing grid operatorsand utilities to request reductions in power usage. The heat caughtmany operators performing seasonal maintenance on generationplants, which left the power grid without adequate power reserves.

The situation triggered record high hourly power prices of$6,000/MWh in New England on Monday and real-time quotes of$3,800/MWh in New York City yesterday afternoon. And we’re stilltwo months away from when power demand usually peaks.

The Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection was sendingout a near constant stream of warnings yesterday, includingrequests to purchase emergency energy, a power reserve warning, amaximum emergency generation notice and a voltage reductionwarning.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker andPennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman John Quain allurged Pennsylvanians to “immediately reduce electricity use toprevent 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.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 the Commonwealth.

“This is a heavy maintenance time of year for us and certainlythese are unusual conditions weatherwise to be experiencing,” saidCynthia Taylor, spokeswoman for PJM. “Our summer peak loads aredriven by the temperature humidity index and we are getting somefairly high indexes right now. [We’re] in somewhat of acapacity-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 right now, Taylor saidthe new generation that has been added to the grid “has beenapproximately canceling out some of the retirements. So therehasn’t been all that much [supply] growth in this particularcalendar year. There’s a large amount of generation that is inqueues waiting to connect to the system. Those projects are invarious stages of completion. But right now we’re growing slowly.”

Public Service Electric & Gas told the public yesterday toexpect afternoon rolling blackouts. Extremely high demand forelectricity may exceed the region’s electric supply, the New Jerseyutility said. “We could be in a very serious situation by early tolate afternoon.” Baltimore Gas & Electric, Potomac ElectricPower and PECO Energy, all of which are on the PJM grid, issuedcalls for emergency 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.

Meanwhile, storms rather than heat and humidity were endangeringthe Midwest power grid. A thunderstorm struck Monday night inChicago, knocking out service to 217,244 Commonwealth Edisoncustomers. ECAR General Manager Brant Eldridge said the region wasbracing for the impact yesterday afternoon.

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