NERC’s summer assessment warns of potential power outages

Most regions expect peak electricity demand to be higher than last summer, NERC says in its latest reliability assessment. (Photo: Denny Jenner/NRECA)

Extreme heat could threaten the nation’s energy supply this summer, increasing demand for electricity and potentially causing power shortages and outages across large swaths of the United States, North American Electric Reliability Corp. warned in a new report.

The states and regions most at risk are Texas, California, the Southwest, New England and most of the Midwest, according to NERC’s 2024 Summer Reliability Assessment released Wednesday.

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said the warnings underscore the danger of the EPA’s recently finalized power plant rule, which threatens reliability by forcing early shutdowns of power plants at a time of rising demand for electricity.

“This latest report highlights the importance of always-available energy as our nation works to keep the lights on,” Matheson said. “This is especially true as we look toward a future that relies on electricity to power more of the economy. Importantly, this report does not take into account the impact of the EPA’s Power Plant Rule, which will dramatically undermine reliable electricity across the country.”

Mark Olson, director of reliability assessments at NERC, also stressed that increased electrification of key sectors of the economy is rapidly boosting demand and taxing the grid.

“Demand in many areas is growing at a rapid pace with the adoption of electric vehicles and the construction of new data centers, which is stressing some parts of the system,” Olson said.

“Weather services are forecasting above-average summer temperatures across much of North America, which could create challenging summer grid conditions,” the NERC report says.

The report says that most regions expect higher demand for electricity at peak times compared to last summer.

“Higher-than-average seasonal temperatures could contribute to higher peak demand as well as increased forced outages of generation and some bulk power system equipment.”

NERC found that delays in the retirement of fossil fuel-fired power plants combined with limited new supply “have improved the outlook for 2024” compared to some previous reports. However, NERC also found that “an increasing number of regions in North America face adequacy risks as early as 2025.”

In addition to the forecast for extreme heat this summer, other risk factors cited in the report include continued supply chain delays for utilities seeking essential equipment and the potential for wildfires in late summer as conditions grow hotter and drier.

The NERC assessment also warns that the most vulnerable areas face these additional challenges:

  • New Britain: The retirement of two natural gas-fired generators at the Mystic Generating Station in Massachusetts this month means the region will have its capacity reduced by 1,400 megawatts this summer, increasing the risk of energy emergencies.
  • Midwest: While there is some new solar and natural gas-fired power generation in the region, it is partially offset by generator retirements and mandates to reserve more fuel. If demand rises above the normal peak, wind and solar resources may not be enough to meet it.
  • Southwest: Persistent severe drought increases the risk that extreme conditions will impact the wholesale energy system.
  • Texas: There is a risk of emergency conditions in the summer evening hours when solar generation begins to decline but demand remains high.
  • California/Mexico: The greatest risk lies in the Baja region, which could experience power shortages if demand is higher than normal due to widespread extreme heat and solar production is lower than normal due to transportation constraints.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.

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