* Natgas supplies could be tight in extreme winter
* Grid may rely on oil, coal to maintain reliability
* Gas produces more than half of New England's power
Dec 4 New England should have enough electricity
to heat homes and businesses this winter but the region's
reliance on natural gas to produce power could create
operational challenges if gas supplies become tight, the
regional grid operator said.
If that happens, grid operator ISO New England will rely on
underused oil- and coal-fired generation to help keep the lights
on, it said.
"ISO New England has raised concerns about the region's
reliance on natural gas as part of our broader strategic
planning initiative efforts," Vamsi Chadalavada, executive vice
president and chief operating officer, said in a release.
Under temperatures of about 7 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 14
C), ISO forecast power demand would peak at about 22,355
megawatts (MW) this winter.
But if extreme winter weather of 2 degrees F occurs, the ISO
said demand could reach 23,095 MW.
Last winter, demand for electricity peaked at 21,354 MW on
Jan. 4, 2012. The all-time winter peak of 22,818 MW was set on
Jan. 15, 2004, during a cold snap. The highest demand ever
recorded in New England was 28,130 MW, reached on Aug. 2, 2006.
One megawatt powers about 1,000 homes.
The six-state region has generation and demand-side
resources totaling about 33,000 MW, including some 30,500 MW
from generators, about 1,920 MW from demand-side resources, and
about 475 MW of net imports from neighboring regions.
New England's reliance on natural gas to produce electricity
has increased significantly over the past several years, in part
because natural gas has become far less expensive than other
fossil fuels due to record shale gas production.
HEAT OR POWER
Natural gas supplies in New England can become tight during
the winter because the fuel is used both to produce electricity
and to heat homes.
Companies that buy natural gas to heat homes and businesses
typically have firm contracts for pipeline delivery, giving them
priority and creating the possibility of reduced fuel deliveries
to some interruptible natural-gas-fired generators during
extreme cold weather.
Almost 45 percent of the region's generating capacity - more
than 13,000 MW - is natural-gas-fired, the ISO said, noting that
such power plants produce more than half of the region's power
because of their lower operating costs.
Much of the rest of the power in New England comes from its
five nuclear reactors, which generate more than 4,600 MW, and
hydropower produced in the region or imported from Quebec.
The region has more than 6,000 MW of oil- and 2,000 MW of
coal-fired generators, which make up nearly 30 percent of its
generating capacity. Those units are seldom called on to provide
electricity because of their higher fuel costs, the ISO said.
The oil and coal units are needed because they help maintain
system reliability during times of high demand, stress or the
unavailability of natural-gas-fired generation.
The ISO said it had surveyed the region's generators to make
sure they had enough coal and oil for the winter.
The ISO also said it was working with federal regulators and
natural gas suppliers to make sure there was enough pipeline gas
for regional power plants and liquefied natural gas for some
units in the Boston area.
If unexpected power plant or transmission line outages
occur, the ISO has other steps it can take to maintain
Those steps include compensating certain customers for
curtailing their energy use, importing emergency power from
neighboring regions, and asking businesses and residents to
conserve electricity voluntarily.
The biggest power companies in New England are units of
National Grid Plc, Northeast Utilities, Iberdrola
SA, NextEra Energy Inc, Dominion Resources Inc
, Entergy Corp, Exelon Corp and GenOn