August 19, 2019
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Power blackouts loom on Northeast’s horizon

WASHINGTON – The power crunch this summer may be worse than predicted, with California suffering blackouts on an average of 20 hours a week and possible power disruptions in the Northeast if hot weather persists, an industry watchdog group reported Tuesday.

At the same time, the Energy Department said gasoline prices, which spiked sharply in recent weeks, may ease around Memorial Day as refiners rev up production. Supplies already are increasing slightly, it said.

Still, any refinery disruption or pipeline problem could cause prices to soar again, John Cook, director of the Energy Information Administration’s petroleum division, told a House hearing. “Today little cushion exists,” he said.

The same can be said of the electric power system in parts of the country, especially in the West Coast and in the Northeastern states. Particular concern was raised for the New York area, which is susceptible to outages if there are power transmission problems into the city.

A call for more transmission lines and electric power plants will be among the recommendations of President Bush’s energy task force when it releases its report Thursday on future energy policy, according to government sources.

But a Senate hearing was told Tuesday there is “no magic bullet” to quickly improve reliability of the nation’s electricity grid as transmission capacity shortfalls are expected to hinder the movement of power for some time to come.

The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry-sponsored grid watchdog organization, said California’s power problems this summer are likely to be worse than even state officials have predicted, and power blackouts could hit the Northeast as well if long, hot days persist. It noted, however, that the Northeast has a 12.6 percent reserve margin, not counting some additional power available from Canada.

But even Texas, where plenty of electricity is available, “should be closely watched” because the state is shifting into a retail competitive market in June and consolidating some grid management activities, the council said in a report provided to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

In California, where summer power disruptions have been predicted for weeks, there may be as much as 260 hours of rolling blackouts during the summer months, said the reliability council report.

“There is no magic bullet, no single thing to be done that will solve the challenges we face” to immediately resolve the power grid reliability concerns, David Cook, the council’s general council, told the Senate hearing.

Cook said that it is clear that California, which is expected to fall short as much as 5,000 megawatts of power during peak demand, “will experience significant difficulties” keeping the lights on this summer.

“Rotating blackouts are expected,” said Cook, with “conditions [expected] to be more severe than reported” by California’s grid system managers since the council’s projections of power shortages were based on later information.

The council’s summer reliability report predicted that most of the country is expected to have adequate power and should have no electricity interruptions this summer. It noted about 15,000 megawatts of additional electricity capacity has been created since last summer because of new power plant construction.

The administration sought Tuesday to get support for its energy plan from the renewable energy industry, which has complained that renewables were being slighted.


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