No obvious problems seen for New England’s power grid this winter

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Monitor staff
Published: 12/5/2022 3:37:04 PM

New England faces no obvious power problems this winter, according to an annual forecast from the group that runs the six-state electricity grid, although extreme conditions might produce requests for conservation.

The group, ISO-New England, said Monday that it does “not anticipate calling for controlled power outages” – that is, rolling blackouts of the sort that hit Texas last winter.

In a release, the organization said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is projecting above-average temperatures in New England this winter. However, it added, “a warmer-than-average season does not eliminate the threat of prolonged stretches of cold weather. Climate change is making weather more volatile and harder to predict, while stimulating more severe weather.”

ISO-NE has warned for years that New England’s dependence on natural gas could lead to shortages or even rolling blackouts during a long cold snap. The gas is used by plants to make about half of the region’s electricity but in winter its first priority is for heating homes and businesses, leading to concerns about shortfalls.

New England came very close to blackouts during a week-long polar vortex in 2014, but since then a number of programs have been instituted to provide alternatives to gas-fired electricity, notably paying so-called “dual fuel” power plants to stockpile oil as a fallback if gas supplies run short. Alternative electricity production, including wind, solar and large battery banks, are starting to have an impact and ISO-NE points to improved monitoring and prediction.

“In addition to closely monitoring inventories at regional liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facilities, the ISO surveys oil-, coal-, and natural-gas-fired generators to monitor inventories and increase awareness of potential emissions or environmental limitations. The ISO combines this information with a 21-day forecast of consumer demand to assess regional energy supplies ... to signal to the region’s wholesale energy market participants the need to contract for additional fuel deliveries.”

ISO New England anticipates demand for electricity will peak at 20,009 megawatts (MW) during average winter weather conditions of 10°F, and 20,695 MW if temperatures reach below-average conditions of 5°F. These projections are both about 2 percent higher than last year’s forecasts.

ISO-NE said all the power production in the six states added up to 34,103 MW, but 4,100 MW of that is “natural gas-fired generating capacity at risk of not being able to get fuel when needed.”

New England’s winter peak record was set during a January 2004 cold snap when electricity usage reached 22,818 MW. Electricity usage is greater in summer – the region’s all-time peak demand was 28,160 MW in August 2006 – but in summer all natural gas is available for electricity production.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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