Delaware Firms caught in a power crunch : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Firms caught in a power crunch Heat wave surprised utilities at a time when many plants are idled By BILL YINGLING Staff reporter 05/10/2000

A third straight day of unseasonably hot weather caught the region's electric utilities off guard Tuesday as customers cranked up air conditioners and sent the demand for power surging.

The PJM Interconnection, which manages the flow of power throughout the mid-Atlantic region, said it averted emergency blackouts after asking customers to conserve energy and by importing power from outside the region. Conectiv's 265,000 customers in Delaware were among those who were asked to conserve.

With many power plants closed for spring maintenance, the region's electric utilities were not ready for the warm weather's early arrival. And PJM officials said that if hot weather strikes again soon, the region could expect the same challenge.

"The last two days have been difficult days," said Melissa Josef, spokeswoman for PJM. "We've had summertime demand and it's the first week of May.

"If it heats up again next week, we'll deal with it again," she said.

Temperatures soared into the low 90s Tuesday, but are expected to fall today as a cold front moves in from the West. Tonight, the mercury should register in the upper 50s and in the 80s Thursday, according to the National Weather Service in State College, Pa.

The problem for PJM Tuesday was that many electric utilities have generating plants out of service for scheduled spring maintenance.

Maintenance outages can last three to six weeks, said Roberta Brown, Conectiv's vice president of power systems.

Conectiv, for example, has two units with a combined capacity of about 560 megawatts down for maintenance -- one in Edgemoor and another in Vienna, Va.

Across the Delaware River in New Jersey, Public Service Electric & Gas has its Hope Creek nuclear generating station out for service, taking 1,030 megawatts out of the regional system, said Kathleen Ellis, spokeswoman for PSE&G.

Utility executives said they perform routine maintenance on power plants in the fall and spring, when demand for energy typically is at its lowest. Power plants are turned off during maintenance and some take a long time to restart.

"They were caught off guard, but it's a question of how much do you want them to predict at this time of year," Josef said. "No one was expecting this at this time of year. This is extreme weather. They all did a really good job."

The demand on Conectiv, which serves about 1 million customers in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, was about 50 percent higher than normal for May, Conectiv's Brown said.

Conectiv's peak load this time of year is about 3,000 mega- watts at any given time. Tuesday afternoon the load was about 4,500 megawatts.

PJM operates the region's high-voltage transmission system and serves as the wholesale power exchange for companies serving 23 million customers -- the largest exchange in North America. Those customers live in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington.

Electric utilities in the region have the capacity to produce about 57,000 megawatts at any given time. The regional system recorded a peak usage Tuesday of about 45,000 megawatts, Josef said.

Earlier this week, PJM issued a warning urging consumers to conserve energy. Tuesday, they warned that emergency blackouts could be necessary to keep the region's electrical system from failing.

Utilities were forced to shut off service to some business customers whose contracts allow for the interruption in periods of high demand, Josef said.

But by 5 p.m., Josef said, PJM had been able to import up to 6,000 megawatts from other parts of the nation and keep the mid-Atlantic's electrical system intact.

"It looks as though the market worked in our favor," Josef said.

Brown noted that early afternoon rain helped cool the Midwest and freed up surplus power that was shipped to the East.

The region's demand Tuesday fell well below the 51,600-megawatt record PJM set July 6 last year, when Delaware's largest electric utility, Conectiv, imposed rolling blackouts on the Delmarva Peninsula after several of its key generators failed.

Those outages affected about 138,000 Conectiv customers.

The Delaware Public Service Commission is preparing to decide whether Conectiv should be fined for last year's outages.

If blackouts resume, Sen. George Bunting, D-Bethany Beach, said he wants the Senate to call Conectiv Chief Executive Officer Howard Cosgrove and other Conectiv executives for hearings at Legislative Hall.

"They've had a year to get their problems fixed and here we are in May, and they're talking about the possibility of rolling blackouts again," said Bunting, a frequent Conectiv critic.

Brown, however, emphasized the trouble encompassed the entire mid-Atlantic region, not just Conectiv's service area.

"There's just not enough electric power in the system [Tuesday] to supply the heavy load that customers are putting on the system," she said.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 10, 2000

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