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Large parts of the US are at risk of summer blackout, regulator warns


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Naureen Malik and David R Baker

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(Bloomberg) — Much of North America, from the Great Lakes to the West Coast, is at risk of power outages this summer as heat, drought, shuttered power plants and supply chain problems put pressure on the power grid. Power supply in much of the US and part of Canada will come under pressure, according to an annual report, and demand will pick up again after two years of pandemic disruptions. It is one of the most appalling assessments yet from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a regulatory body that oversees the stability of the electrical grid.

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Climate change is partly to blame for this. A historic drought is affecting the western US, limiting hydroelectric power supplies, and forecasts call for a hotter-than-average summer. But the fight against global warming comes with its own risks, as older coal plants are closing faster than wind farms, solar plants and batteries can replace them.

Touches in the supply chain, meanwhile, are slowing solar projects in the Southwest and transmission lines in Texas, while coal plants struggle to get fuel from increased exports. And according to NERC, power grids face a growing threat of cyber-attacks because of US support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

Electricity supplies will be tight, especially in the Midwest. Across the region, enough older factories have closed since last summer to reduce production capacity by 2.3%. However, demand is expected to increase. Even when temperatures are normal, grid operators may need power from neighboring regions to keep air conditioners buzzing, and a heat wave or low wind speeds can cause power outages, according to the report. NERC had previously warned that the Midwest could face power shortages if factories close, but not until 2024. The region is also missing a major transmission line damaged by a tornado in December, and repairs are expected to be completed in June.

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Across the West, drought will limit the output of hydroelectric dams. It even threatens power plants that draw their cooling water from the Missouri River, which is running low, according to the report. Wildfires exacerbated by the drought can obscure the sky with smoke, reducing the output of solar power plants and forcing homes with rooftop solar panels to rely more on the grid.

Last year, NERC issued an almost equally stark warning, stating that power grids serving more than 40% of the U.S. population were at risk of failure. In the end, most systems held up through the heat. One notable exception was in the Pacific Northwest, where Avista Corp. resorted to power outages during an unrelenting heat wave in June, leaving more than 9,000 homes and businesses without power.

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Some of the states mentioned in the report have already released their own summer forecasts, some more optimistic than others. Texas Electric Reliability Council said in a report Monday that the state — which suffered a deadly day-long blackout during a winter storm last year — has enough power to meet expected record demand from June to September, although some analysts cited the report. too optimistic.

“We are very confident in the summer; our reserves have risen,” Brad Jones, Ercot’s interim CEO, said at a news conference Tuesday. But if supplies come under pressure, Texans will be asked to conserve sooner than in the past, Jones said. “I hope each of you will turn to conservation as a way to both lower your bill and help us all get to market.”

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California grid operators, on the other hand, have warned that the state is at risk of power outages for the next three summers as the state transitions to cleaner energy. Hydropower generation has shrunk due to the drought, older gas-fired plants have closed, and electricity supplies are strained on hot summer nights when the sun sets on the state’s many solar plants.

“We know reliability will be difficult during this time of transition,” Alice Reynolds, chair of the California Public Utilities Commission, said at a news conference on May 6.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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This post Large parts of the US are at risk of summer blackout, regulator warns

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