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Monday, July 15, 2024

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Electricity Watchdog Warns of Possible Winter Blackouts

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By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – A watchdog organization warned this month that there is an elevated risk of blackouts during extreme weather this winter, saying New Jersey is in a higher-risk category because it has “insufficient operating reserves in above-normal conditions.”

The nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corp.’s 2023-2024 Winter Reliability Assessment Report said that the risk of an electricity grid disruption has increased due to climate change, rising electric energy demand and natural gas dependence.

According to the report, a large portion of the country is at elevated risk of power disruptions, in part because of limited natural gas delivery capacity.

According to its website, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. is an international regulatory authority whose mission is to assure the effective and efficient reduction of risks to the reliability and security of the nation’s electricity grid. It is subject to oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and its area of responsibility spans the continental United States, Canada and a small part of Mexico.

The organization’s report notes that natural gas electricity generation is “vitally important to meeting winter electricity demand.” John Moura, the organization’s director for reliability and performance analysis, is quoted in the Insurance Journal, arguing that “there is not enough natural gas pipeline and infrastructure to serve all the gas generation in certain big areas of the country.”

Several pipeline projects have been killed or delayed by advocates of renewable energy sources. Add to this picture the ongoing war in the Ukraine, the surge in economic activity as the pandemic fades and delays in ambitious targets for power generation based on renewable sources.

The organization’s assessment analysis puts New Jersey in a category of elevated risk with “insufficient operating reserves in above-normal conditions.” Speaking of the PJM Interconnection, a power transmission organization that covers 13 states, the analysis says: “Forecasted peak demand has risen while resources have changed little in these areas since winter storm Elliott caused emergencies across the area in 2022.”

The report points to weaknesses in the grid that need attention, especially as demand grows due to a push for greater electrification of the transportation and home-heating sectors.

PJM states in a September report that “capacity shifts driven by federal and state public policy present increasing reliability risks due to a potential timing mismatch between generation retirements, load growth and the pace of new generation entry.”

As for winter 2023-2024, much will depend upon how much the now-declared El Nino drives cold snaps and helps prolong periods of extreme weather.

Atlantic City Electric, one utility in the PJM array of generators and distributors, responded to a question about the organization’s report, saying:, “Atlantic City Electric works closely with PJM Interconnection as well as local emergency management agencies across our service area during storm and non-storm events, ensuring a coordinated approach to supporting the communities we serve. We work year-round, readying the local energy grid for the winter storm season by performing essential work to meet increased customer demand and to help ensure reliable energy service ahead of potential severe winter storms.”

How Atlantic City Electric receives its power is the larger story bound up in the assessment report. That report is kinder to the PJM area than to some others where the risks are even higher.

It concludes that the transmission area that contains New Jersey has a “reserve margin” that is “adequate for normal forecasted peak demand and expected generator outages.” The risk comes from the fact that higher demand levels and outages that have occurred during extreme cold weather can result in “shortfalls that can trigger energy emergencies.”

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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