Western Pennsylvania vulnerable to possible summer blackouts

Western Pennsylvania could experience blackouts this summer, the East Central Area Reliability Council (ECAR) indicated Friday in its annual assessment. Load interruptions 'beyond contractually interruptible loads and demand side management,' are possible, ECAR said.


By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, May 4 -- Western Pennsylvania could experience blackouts this summer, the East Central Area Reliability Council (ECAR) indicated Friday in its annual assessment.

Load interruptions "beyond contractually interruptible loads and demand side management," are possible, ECAR said.

Under normal weather conditions, and with interruptible loads curtailed, ECAR said there is a 54% "probability" it will need to rely on supplemental capacity resources, such as additional imports of power from outside the region or use of special operating procedures that can increase the capacity of generating units for a short period of time.

Various ECAR members reported by taking "extraordinary" measures, they may be able to increase the capacity of their units up to 4 hr to avoid firm load curtailment, according to the assessment.

The capacity margin in the ECAR region is forecast to be 11.5% during peak demand, up from 11.2% last year. While some 2,235 Mw of import power is included in the projections, ECAR said additional power purchases could be needed for summer.

One of 10 regional reliability councils of the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), ECAR includes Allegheny Power, a unit of Allegheny Energy Inc., and Duquesne Light Co., a unit of DQE Inc. , in Pennsylvania and electric utilities from Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Kentucky, and Michigan.

As part of phase one of electric utility industry restructuring in Pennsylvania, DQE sold its generation assets in April 2000.

ECAR projected a summer peak demand of 102,161 Mw, including interruptible and direct-controlled load in July. If interruptible load and direct controlled load were not served, the projected capacity margin at peak would be 14.5%, ECAR said. Including import capability of 9,500 Mw, the projected capacity margin would rise to 19.6%.

Net generating capacity is expected to total 112,538 Mw, rising to 113,136 Mw by the end of July, or 4,457 Mw higher than last summer's assessment. ECAR said 97 Mw of power is subject to direct-controlled peak shaving in July, compared to 94 Mw last year. It said 3,413 Mw is available under interruptible load programs.

Customers generally receive a discount for agreeing to be interrupted during the peak periods.

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Terrance J. Fitzpatrick said demand side response programs are vital to controlling wholesale power prices and to ensuring reliability during hot summer days. He said residential customers can conserve electricity as well, emphasizing that their efforts can also help keep wholesale power prices down.

"This is important because even modest amounts of conservation by customers, like turning air conditioners up a few degrees, can dramatically increase the overall amount of energy available and decrease the price of that energy," he added.

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