By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — As energy and gas prices continue to rise, industry insiders are warning that blackouts and “energy emergencies” may be in store for millions of Americans this summer.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation released a report this week evaluating the possibility of blackouts, saying that there is a “high risk of energy emergencies during peak summer conditions” in many parts of the country.
“System operators in (Midcontinent Independents System Operator) are more likely to need operating mitigations, such as load modifying resources or non-firm imports, to meet reserve requirements under normal peak summer conditions,” the group’s report said. “More extreme temperatures, higher generation outages, or low wind conditions expose the MISO North and Central areas to higher risk of temporary operator-initiated load shedding to maintain system reliability.”
In the summer months, the need for things like air conditioning energy soars. At the same time, Americans are already experiencing record high gas prices and energy prices that have spiked since President Joe Biden took office.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’s latest data reports that energy prices have increased faster than any other price in the U.S.
“The energy index rose 30.3% over the last year, and the food index increased 9.4%, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 1981,” BLS said.
Experts say higher energy costs — and the greater possibility of blackouts — are likely this summer.
“The combination of much higher natural gas prices — 50% higher than last year — and increased electricity demand, along with continued retirements of fossil and nuclear plants, means that wholesale electric prices this summer are likely to soar,” said Jonathan Lesser, an energy expert at the Manhattan Institute. “Some of the largest power system operators, including in California and the Midwest, are also warning about possible rolling blackouts because of too little generating capacity.
“The result will be higher retail prices for consumers and businesses, with the latter contributing to more inflation,” he added.
Infrastructure damage also could lead to potential blackouts this summer.
“Restoration continues on a 4-mile section of 500 kV transmission line that was damaged by a tornado during severe storms on December 10, 2021,” the NERC report said. “The transmission outage affects 1,000 MW of firm transfers between the Midwestern and Southern MISO system that includes parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The transmission line is expected to be restored at the end of June 2022.”
At the same time, droughts in some areas are making hydroelectric power more scarce.
“Dry hydrological conditions threaten the availability of hydroelectricity for transfers throughout the Western Interconnection,” the report said. “Some assessment areas, including WECC’s California-Mexico (CA/MX) and Southwest Reserve Sharing Group (SRSG), depend on substantial electricity imports to meet demand on hot summer evenings and other times when variable energy resource (e.g., wind, solar) output is diminishing.”
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C., bureau.