- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Air conditioners kept humming across the Northeast through nine straight days of humid, 90-degree-plus heat, and only a brush fire could knock out the power.
briefly in California, where blackouts were common in recent summers.
After several years of power woes, the nation's electricity grids are holding up this summer despite record demand in many areas. Specialists cite increased attention to conservation in California and new power plants churning out more juice from Texas to New England.
In addition, intense scrutiny of electricity markets unleashed by the Enron scandal and the California shortages of 2000 and 2001 may be keeping traders from manipulating supplies and prices.
While storms have caused brief outages, there has been no shortage of electricity. The North American Electric Reliability Council anticipates adequate power to meet summer demand with excess reserves ranging from 15 percent to more than 30 percent in most parts of the country.
"Everyone seems to be holding up," said Ellen Vancko, a spokeswoman for the industry-backed group that keeps track of grid reliability.
New power plants generating nearly 10,000 additional megawatts of electricity were coming online between March and September, according to the reliability council. California alone has new plants producing 4,300 megawatts this summer, state officials say. A megawatt is enough electricity to serve 700 homes.
In contrast to the havoc caused by shortages and soaring prices the past two years, California is experiencing a small glut of power this summer. With demand in check and more production both from increased hydropower and new power plants the grid easily has met peak demand most days.
"Our biggest challenges this year were fires," said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, the agency that manages the state's electricity grid. Several brush fires damaged transmission lines and caused brief power disruptions in late June in the southern part of the state.
So far this year, the California ISO has issued two emergency alerts because of low power reserves on July 9 and 10 when temperatures and demand soared compared with 65 alerts the first five months of 2001. Neither alert resulted in an outage, although some industrial customers curtailed use in accord with their energy contracts, officials said.
Power systems in the Midwest and Northeast also kept pace with record demand brought about by scorching heat over the past few weeks.
"We've experienced electricity demand beyond what we've ever seen before, but our system has continued to perform well," said Sabrina Davis, a spokeswoman for Chicago's Commonwealth Edison, which drew criticism for a string of power outages three summers ago.
Despite soaring temperatures across the Midwest, "We haven't seen any major problems," said Mary Lynn Webster, a spokeswoman for the agency that manages the electricity grid from Ohio to the Dakotas.
Much the same story is told by grid managers from Virginia to Maine, including in the New York City area where transmission bottlenecks have always been a cause for worry.
Consolidated Edison, the utility that serves New York, produced a record amount of electricity for July. "The only interruption of power that we had came because of thunderstorms," said Con Ed spokesman Joseph Petta. "The supplies in New York are tight, but adequate."
Much of the Northeast concluded nine straight days of 90-plus heat last week, but air conditioners save for some storm-related outages kept humming.
"We've been in record territory for demand," said Ray Dotter, a spokesman for PJM Interconnection, which manages the power grid that serves 25 million people in seven states from New Jersey to Virginia and into eastern Ohio.
The PJM issued daily advisories for people to conserve electricity but never came close to running out of power. One reason is that the region has added 4,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the past year.
"Demand is still high," said Stephen Allen, spokesman for the Northeast Power Coordinating Council, "but we have more power plants and the grid operators have been able to compensate for some of the transmission bottlenecks."
For example, in Connecticut, where grid congestion has caused problems in the past, officials installed several small generators in the spring to avoid shortages, Mr. Allen said.
Still, many energy specialists worry about the future.
Financial and accounting questions surrounding the energy industry have resulted in canceled plans for scores of new power plants that were to go online in coming years. Utilities also acknowledge that power grids remain woefully inadequate to deal with demand growth.
"An investment retrenchment is roaring through the power industry," Larry Makovich, a director of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told a Senate hearing recently. He said a third of the proposed power plants have been canceled since the beginning of the year, including many in the West.
"We're just in a temporary lull," warned Pat Wood, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "We don't have what we need in the way of power plants. Ultimately, we need the investment back."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide