July 17, 2006

N. America avoids blackouts amid record power use

By Eileen O'Grady

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Power consumption across the U.S. and
parts of Canada soared with scorching temperatures to new
record highs on Monday, but blackouts were unlikely unless
there were major equipment failures, said the industry group
that oversees transmission.

By mid-afternoon, power demand in the Midwest region and
Texas exceeded 2005 records and continued to climb.

Expected electric use will far exceed a summer forecast
issued in May by the North American Electric Reliability
Council, the group said.

"We are shattering old records," said Stan Johnson, NERC's
manager of situation awareness. "It's very unusual to see
records being set all across North America."

Generation was expected to be ample to avoid blackouts,
Johnson said.

"We are feeling pretty good," Johnson said as late
afternoon peak-hour demand approached the East Coast. "We are
watching some areas: the upper Midwest, the mid-Atlantic
states, California and Ontario."

Those were areas where power-plant construction has not
kept pace with growing demand for electricity, Johnson said.

While heat strains transmission lines and generating
plants, Johnson said the U.S. will avoid blackouts "unless
there are major equipment failures."

He said the industry learnt from the nation's largest
blackout which occurred August 14, 2003.

"Companies are doing well. They are investing in
infrastructure and doing proper maintenance," he said.

Highs of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) were
forecast due to a dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere
has spread from the western U.S. to the central plains and
northeast, said meteorologist Dennis Feltgen of the National
Weather Service.

"It's preventing any cooling air from moving in or out, and
as a result, we are cooking," Feltgen said.

The Northeast may see some relief by mid-week, but the heat
wave will continue across much of the central and southern
plains, Feltgen said.

"Much of the country is going to see 90-plus temperatures
and triple-digits," he said.


Several grid operators, including the largest, the
mid-Atlantic PJM, called for consumers to conserve electricity
and for utilities to hold off from any maintenance as a heat
wave was expected to linger for several days.

Grid operators in the New York, the mid-Atlantic, Midwest,
Texas, California and Ontario expect to break last year's
all-time power-use records as residents and businesses crank up
air conditioners.

Power demand across the U.S. was forecast to rise to
740,097 megawatts this month, 0.5 percent above 2005's actual
peak, which exceeded year-ago projections due to
warmer-than-normal temperatures.

Last summer was the second-warmest on record in the
Northeast and the 17th warmest nationwide, according to the
National Climatic Data Centre which has been compiling data for
111 years.

Total generation in the U.S. is 892,621 MW.

PJM Interconnection asked customers in Pennsylvania,
Maryland and New Jersey to conserve energy for the next few
days as demand could reach an all-time high of 138,000 MW,
breaking the current record of 133,763 MW set on July 26, 2005.