July 17, 2006

US Sees Widespread Record Power Use Amid Heat Wave

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Blistering temperatures from New York to Sacramento on Monday will boost power demand to record highs and strain electric resources across the United States as people try to escape the sweltering heat, according to utilities and power grid operators.

Several grid operators, including the nation's largest, the mid-Atlantic PJM, have called for consumers to conserve electricity or for utilities to hold off from any maintenance as the situation was expected to linger for several days.

Generators were expected to have sufficient supplies to avoid blackouts, the North American Electric Reliability Council said in its forecast for the summer issued in May.

But extreme weather conditions "present a significant reliability risk" to parts of the country, like Connecticut and Southern California, which have not added new generation in the past few years,

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.


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

The heat also strains transmission lines and generating facilities so grid operators are watching operations closely.

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 megawatts, breaking the current record of 133,763 MW set on July 26, 2005.

PJM, which runs the grid for more than 51 million people, issued the conservation request as a "prudent precaution."

"Conserving electricity will help ensure adequate power supplies," the grid operator said in a release.

The New York Independent System Operator, whose lines serve 19 million people, forecast peak demand would hit 33,000 MW, breaking its all-time high of 32,075 MW on July 26.

On Sunday, NYISO told customers it might activate the emergency demand response programs on Monday to limit power consumption during the hottest part of the day.

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, which operates in 15 states, forecast demand of 115,400 MW, above the 2005 peak of 112,197 MW, while in California, the state grid operator forecast demand to rise to a record of 47,050 MW, up from 45,431 MW.

Texas was expected to set a fourth record for the month with demand to exceed 63,000 MW, topping the 2005 all-time peak of 60,274 MW.

Temperatures for the continental U.S. from January through June has been the warmest first-half of any year since record-keeping began in 1895, according to the National Climate Data Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.