Heat to Test Electric Grids From West Coast to New England

Communities from California to New England are at risk of power shortages this summer, with heat expected to strain electric grids that serve more than 40% of the U.S. population.

The sweeping warning from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation comes after California and Texas both suffered weather-related blackouts affecting millions during the past nine months. While the agency has previously warned that the U.S. West faces ongoing energy shortages, its report Wednesday highlighted for the first time that parts of New England and the Midwest are also at elevated risk if temperatures are above normal.

“This is probably the starkest, most widespread caution that we have delivered,” said John Moura, director of reliability assessment and performance analysis at NERC, which has been publishing such assessments for 50 years. “The loss of electricity impacts us more than it ever has and the risk has increased more than it ever has.”

For New England and the Midwest, the risk of a grid emergency has been building for years as large, fossil-fuel plants have shut down without being replaced by new plants, said Moura. That doesn’t mean blackouts are a certainty, but “we just cant ignore this risk,” he said.

ISO New England, which manages the Northeast region’s grid, said in a statement that it has “many tools” to manage reliability this summer, “up to and including controlled power outages.” The Midcontintent Independent System Operator that oversees power markets in the Midwest said it has “projected adequate resource availability to meet the 2021 summer peak demand.”

Declining capacity across the U.S. has left many regions increasingly reliant on electricity imported from their neighbors. That becomes a problem when a region-wide weather event -- such as a heat wave -- drives up demand and taxes power supplies, leaving everyone short on energy. Drought and wildfires are also risk factors.

California faces the biggest threat, given its reliance on both imports and solar power, which ebbs in the evening just as demand tends to climb. Texas is also at risk, but the state is generally better prepared for summer conditions than other regions, according to NERC.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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