Bitter Cold in U.S. Midwest Could Bring Near-Record Power Use

(Bloomberg) -- The deep freeze that’s prompting dire warnings to stay indoors from the upper Midwest to the Northeast is also expected to strain power grids the most in four years.

With the cold in Chicago forecast to rival Antarctica’s on Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service, demand for electricity to keep heaters running is expected to surge. PJM Interconnection LLC, the largest U.S. power grid which covers the area, projects that usage will come within a whisker of the winter record on Wednesday and Thursday.

Demand on the PJM grid, which stretches from Chicago to Washington, D.C., could reach 134 gigawatts Wednesday and 142 gigawatts Thursday, according to the grid operator’s website. Generators have been asked to check power-plant equipment and fuel supplies to make sure there are no interruptions.

The low at Chicago O’Hare International Airport is forecast to reach minus-21 Fahrenheit (minus-29 Celsius) Wednesday and then drop to minus-24 Thursday, said Charles Mott, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois. The temperatures could rival readings in Antarctica: Tuesday, the temperature at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was minus-27 with a windchill of minus-50.

Windchills in Chicago could reach minus-55, the weather service said. Chicago’s all-time low was minus-27 in 1985.

So far, the expected surge in demand has pushed prices just a little higher in real-time power markets. At PJM West, power for delivery for the hour starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday was up 20 percent, according to Genscape data. U.S. natural gas futures rebounded after sliding to a four-month low as the Midwest braces for record low temperatures while forecasts signal another round of cold air in mid-February.

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