During the dog days of summer (which haven’t been all that doggy in the Northeast this year) it’s not very popular to sit and speculate about the winter months ahead, but the people responsible for keeping the lights – and the heat – turned on have to do it. One of these folks is Joe Bastardi of WeatherBELL Analytics, and he’s looking ahead with some trepidation. Joe is reading the meteorological tea leaves and sees the potential for another round of heavy snowfall and crippling cold temperatures coming our way. And he also notes that our net energy production, in the wake of new EPA carbon regulations, is actually declining from the previous curve at a time when bad weather puts full load demand on the system. During an interview with Wall Street Journal Live, he voices some of these concerns. (Check out the video. An excerpt follows.)
Joe Bastardi: … It’s flowing along right now into the type of El Nino situation that is notorious for giving the United States cold, snowy winters, especially in the eastern part of the United States, relative to the averages. That would be significant because we were within one power plant last year of having the grid overload …
Question: This is sounding horrific. I know that in the first quarter, the weather was said to be to blame for the slow economic growth. Are we going to stop working, basically is what you’re saying?
Joe Bastardi: This year, if you get the kind of winter that we had in 2009-2010 or 2002-2003 with the nation’s grid on the ropes the way it is and some of these regulations that I hear about coming down that are supposed to close plants on January 1st – and what I know, because we’re involved in getting people ready to fight snow in cities around the country – this could be a very, very big economic impact on the winter. And we’re very concerned about that.
Do you recall those “polar vortex” weeks which were all the rage back in January and February? They may be coming back, and last time it happened the strain hit one of the nation’s major power distribution networks to the point where it almost gave up the ghost.
Last winter, bitterly cold weather placed massive stress on the US electrical system ― and the system almost broke. On January 7 in the midst of the polar vortex, PJM Interconnection, the Regional Transmission Organization serving the heart of America from New Jersey to Illinois, experienced a new all-time peak winter load of almost 142,000 megawatts.
Eight of the top ten of PJM’s all-time winter peaks occurred in January 2014. Heroic efforts by grid operators saved large parts of the nation’s heartland from blackouts during record-cold temperature days. Nicholas Akins, CEO of American Electric Power, stated in Congressional testimony, “This country did not just dodge a bullet ― we dodged a cannon ball.”
In order to comply with the new Obama era EPA regs, American Electric Power, which supplies a major portion of the electricity used on the east coast, will be closing almost one quarter of their coal fired plants between now and next June. This is because they were economically unable to come into compliance with the new regulations in the impossibly short window of opportunity offered by the EPA. This is going to reduce the total surge capacity available for some of our most densely populated areas just when we may get hit with weather related demand spikes beyond anyone’s control.
Having the power go out in the summer when you’re trying to run the air conditioning is bad enough. Losing heating when the temperatures head below zero for weeks on end is a recipe for disaster.