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Summer power demand expected to strain supply Source: Charleston Gazette Publication date: 2000-05-16

For the third consecutive summer, the supply of electricity in West Virginia and eight neighboring states will barely keep up with demand, a utility study reports. Utilities in the region expect high demand with only a narrow margin to provide electricity if power plants shut down due to extremely hot weather.

"There's not a lot of cushion for error, but it looks like our members have sufficient resources for all but extreme circumstances," said Paul Kure, a staff engineer at the East Central Area Reliability Council. "There's not a lot of room for error."

The industry group represents utilities that serve 36 million customers in West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.

In its recent summer assessment, the Canton, Ohio-based group said utilities expect demand in peak summer periods to be about 99,000 megawatts.

Utilities project they will generate 104,563 megawatts in July, the peak summer month. With purchases from other power grids and power purchases already agreed to in contracts, supply is expected to rise to about 118,000 megawatts.

The difference of supply over demand, which is about 17 percent, "would be a fairly good margin," Kure said. "Things start getting tight at the 10-12 percent range," which is possible if electrical generation is less than expected and demand soars in an exceptionally hot summer.

The report, which Kure said is similar to assessments in 1998 and 1999, warned that long stretches of hot weather may require utilities in the region to bring in power from other regional grids.

Still, the "capability of the transmission system to import power may not be sufficient, even if there is available power to import from other regions."

Utilities in the region are expected to add 2,600 megawatts to capacity this year, a 2.4 percent increase, he said.

In contrast, plans to build four natural gas-fired peak power plants in West Virginia - in Wayne, Cabell and Pleasants counties - are expected to boost capacity by 14 percent, said Billy Jack Gregg, consumer advocate at the Public Service Commission.

The supply of power is sufficient except during peak periods, which are the hottest and coldest times of the year when high demand pushes wholesale prices to $7,000 a megawatt hour, up from $2,000 a year ago, he said.

"Those kinds of prices make it very attractive to build a peaking plant," Gregg said. "People see lots of peaking capacity and the market is rushing into fill it."

Tight supplies of power could again lead to requests that consumers turn down air conditioners and turn off lights. American Electric Power asked its 3 million customers last summer to conserve power to keep pace with supply.

Janice Lantz, a spokeswoman for Allegheny Energy Supply said the utility has added 88 megawatts of natural gas-fired generating capacity at two plants in Pennsylvania.

The units are prepackaged and preassembled. "With a minimum amount of work and expense, you'll be seeing more of them," she said.

Gregg said the widespread use of air conditioning is the "big driver" of demand for electricity. Kure said the strong economy - more businesses operating - and the rising number and variety of home appliances are pushing demand.

Publication date: 2000-05-16 ) 2000, YellowBrix, Inc.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 17, 2000

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