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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New England electric grid says region can make enough power for wintertime

HOLYOKE, Mass. – New England has more than enough power plants to meet consumer demand for electricity this winter, although the region’s increasing dependence on natural gas is a potential cause of concern.

That’s the gist of a
report from ISO-New England, which operates the six-state region’s power grid and wholesale electricity markets. ...

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HOLYOKE, Mass. – New England has more than enough power plants to meet consumer demand for electricity this winter, although the region’s increasing dependence on natural gas is a potential cause of concern.

That’s the gist of a
report from ISO-New England, which operates the six-state region’s power grid and wholesale electricity markets.

The low cost of natural gas has displaced many other fuels as a source of cheap electricity, to the point that more than 13,000 megawatts, almost 45 percent of the region’s maximum generating capacity and more than half of the power production on the average day, is generated by turbines that are natural-gas-fired.

If natural gas supplies tighten this winter, it could force the use of high-cost coal- and oil-fired plants.

According to ISO-New England, average winter temperatures of about 7 degrees Fahrenheit would see demand peak at about 22,355 megawatts. If extreme winter weather of 2 degrees F occurs, demand could reach 23,095 megawatts. (One megawatt is enough to power roughly 1,000 homes; Seabrook Station can produce about 1,200 megawatts at full blast.)

This is well below the critical point. The six-state region has resources totaling about 33,000 megawatts, including about 30,500 megawatts from generators, about 1,920 megawatts from demand-side resources in which companies agree to reduce their demand on schedule, and about 475 megawatts of net imports from neighboring regions

Last winter, which was above-average in temperature, demand peaked at 21,354 megawatts on Jan. 4, 2012. The all-time winter peak of 22,818 megawatts was set Jan. 15, 2004, during a cold snap.

The highest demand comes in summer, due to air conditioning. The highest ever recorded in New England was 28,130 megawatts, reached Aug. 2, 2006.

Natural gas is a concern in winter because there is also demand from heating customers in New England. Companies that procure natural gas for heating purposes typically have firm contracts for pipeline delivery, which gives them priority and creates the possibility of reduced fuel deliveries to some natural-gas-fired generators in the region, according to ISO-New England.