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Northeast power grids see high demand with heat

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Demand for power Wednesday in the Eastern United States will approach but likely not beat record levels as customers crank up their air conditioners for another day to escape the sweltering heat.

The grid operators said supplies were ample to meet the forecast demand and the utilities should be able to keep everyone’s lights (and air conditioners) on without resorting to brownouts, blackouts or other measures that would affect customers so long as generation and transmission resources remain healthy.

Meteorologists forecast temperatures would reach the 90s Fahrenheit up and down the East Coast from Connecticut to Florida with the humidity making it feel like more than 100 degrees from New York south.

PJM, the nation’s biggest power grid operator serving 51 million people in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, issued a public appeal for conservation for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia as demand there nears record levels.

“The heavy demand could strain the transmission system in Maryland and northern Virginia. Power supplies are available but the problem is getting the power to where it is needed,” a PJM spokesman said.

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The PJM spokesman noted the grid operator still had many tools available to control demand and maintain system reliability before resorting to brownouts and blackouts.

Electricity traders said it would be tough for PJM to break a record with meteorologists forecasting the mercury in Chicago, which is in the western part of PJM -- would reach only the low 80s Wednesday.

PJM forecast peak demand Wednesday afternoon would reach about 141,000 megawatts. That is below the grid’s all-time peak of 144,644 MW set on August 2, 2006.

One megawatt powers about 800 homes in PJM and the rest of the U.S. Northeast.

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In New York, the state grid operator forecast demand Wednesday would peak at about 31,500 MW, which is a couple thousand megawatts shy of the all-time record of 33,939 MW also set on August 2, 2006.

Although temperatures in New York City would top 90 degrees, highs across upstate New York would hold in the 80s.

As with PJM, traders noted if the heat does not affect the entire state at the same time the old peak demand records would likely stand.

The heat is also punishing the southeastern part of New England where the regional grid operator forecast demand would exceed 23,000 MW, but that is well short of the grid’s all-time record of 28,130 MW also set on August 2, 2006.

Although temperatures will top 90 degrees in Hartford, Connecticut, forecasters expect highs in the 80s in Boston and much of the rest of the region. In Maine, temperatures will likely not even break out of the 70s Wednesday.

The cooler weather in Chicago is moving east across the Ohio Valley Wednesday and should break the East Coast heat wave Thursday. The forecasters expect highs in New York to remain in the mid 80s on Thursday.