Report: 1 in 10 Chance Electricity Needs Outstrip Supply this Summer in New England

Summer heat always carries the risk of power shortages as electric customers use more power to keep themselves cool, but a new industry report says predictions based on extreme and less likely weather scenarios could result in power shortages in New England this summer.

Those scenarios are based on above average levels of heat and humidity that have a one-in-ten chance of happening.

A report the North American Electric Reliability Council released on Wednesday identifies New England as one of five regional electric grids where demand for electricity is likely to exceed available supply if temperatures are higher than normal. The council said New England is at an “elevated risk” of energy emergencies this summer, along with the Midwest, Texas, the Western states, and California – which is the only region the council labeled as “high risk.”

The report predicted that New England has enough resources to meet typical levels of peak demand, but unusually high heat or extreme weather could require the grid operator to transfer electricity from surrounding regions.

The grid operator, ISO New England, said it expects to have an adequate electric supply this summer, but noted that forecasts don’t account for extreme conditions – like the cold snap that caused millions of people in Texas to lose power in February.

“Events in other parts of the country have shown how quickly the unexpected can become reality,” Vamsi Chadalavada, ISO New England’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a news release. “Over the next several months, we’ll work with the New England states and stakeholders in the energy industry to discuss the challenges these types of events pose to the region.”

ISO has procedures in place if the demand for electricity exceeds the supply in the region, like in the case of an extended heat wave, fuel supply issues or a transmission line outage. 

In extreme cases, ISO said it may have to call for “controlled power outages” to protect the overall grid. But there are other measures the operator can take without resorting to a rolling blackout, like importing power from neighboring regions, calling on reserves, or calling for voluntary energy conservation. 

The council said it expected New England would only require “limited use” of those measures this summer. Expected power outages because of a shortfall of electric supply are “negligible” in the region, except in the most extreme cases where they would be expected to lead to 1.3 hours of outages, according to the council.

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