Rolling Blackouts a Possibility This Winter

Are coal and natural gas in short supply in the U.S. these days? And if so, what does that mean for our upcoming winter?
According to a U.S. regulatory agency, those supplies are indeed tight. And that means when we experience bouts of extreme cold this winter, large areas of North America could face rolling blackouts and other energy emergencies.
The North American Electrical Reliability Council (NERC) announced its seasonal assessment recently. A spokesperson said severe weather may stress the grids by causing demand for natural gas, coal and backup fuel that can't be matched by the supply.
John Moura is director of reliability assessment for NERC. He said, "The trend is we see more retirements of critical generation, fuel challenges, and we are doing everything we can. These challenges don't… appear out of nowhere.

25% of Americans at Risk
Areas of the country most likely to see blackouts from extreme cold this winter include Texas, the central U.S. system stretching from the Great Lakes to Louisiana, New England, and the Carolinas.
This represents about one-quarter of America's 332 million population. Prices remain high for the below-average stockpiles of gasoline, and the war in Ukraine continues to take its toll. A railroad strike would make matters worse.
Jim Matheson is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He said, "As the demand for electricity risks outpacing the available supply during peak winter conditions, consumers face an inconceivable but real threat of rolling blackouts.
"Absent a shift in state and federal energy policy, this is a reality we will face for years to come."

'Dire Set of Consequences This Winter'
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator manages the central U.S. grid. According to the NERC, the Operator has limited power supplies after too many generators shut last winter.
In addition, Gulf Coast plants did not do enough to protect against cold weather. The inadequate weatherization of power plants, combined with shortages in backup fuel supplies, does not bode well if winter weather is severe.
New England's lack of gas supplies is even more concerning than last year. James Danly is a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He said, "There is a very real possibility that New England could be facing a dire set of consequences this winter."
Texas and other southern states experienced blackouts in February 2021 that lasted for days and ended up leaving about 200 people dead.
Since then, state officials have tried to prepare the gas infrastructure and power plants for another potential extreme weather situation. But U.S. regulators still say Texas is at the highest risk

Cold and Snow Have Already Arrived
The NERC assessment warns "that a large portion of the North American bulk power system is at risk of having insufficient energy supplies during severe winter weather."
It concluded that "high-peak demand projections, inadequate generator weatherization, fuel supply risks, and limited natural gas infrastructure are contributory factors to reliability risk."
Now, there's always the possibility the country will experience a mild winter. But history – especially recent history – argues against those odds.
Last winter, the New England area got hit hard by a nor'easter bomb cyclone that included heavy snowfall, damaging winds and coastal flooding.
Even before this winter has officially started, upstate New York was deluged with huge amounts of snow, including more than five feet of the white stuff in Buffalo. And the Midwest had several days with high temperatures only in the 20s

Precedent Has Been Set for Blackouts
Rolling blackouts have been imposed by U.S. grid operators in recent years. Including during the deep freeze in Texas last year and the 2020 heat waves in California.
Those rotating outages could occur again this winter if demand outstrips supply and operators are concerned about a grid failure.

Regardless of whether power outages occur this winter, it will be expensive to heat homes. Federal regulators have said New England residents could face their highest energy costs in more than a quarter of a century.
That will be due to a shortage of heating oil supplies and intense competition for liquefied natural gas

'Shake, Shiver, and Shovel'
The Farmers' Almanac is not perfect with its predictions, but it does have a pretty good track record.
Their slogan for this winter is "Shake, shiver and shovel." They say the eastern half of the country should brace for potentially record-breaking cold.
The "frigid forecast" extends to the Deep South and Texas. Just what folks there want to hear, right?

Here's what else they predict
  • Winter temperatures will be colder than normal across much of the country between the East Coast and the Rocky Mountains.
  • Snowfall will be greater than normal from central New England through northern North Carolina, from the Lower Great Lakes and the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys into the southern Plains, from the northern Plains into eastern Washington, and across the higher terrain of the southern Rockies and California.
  • Freezing temperatures will also bring above-average snow totals to most areas in the eastern U.S. that typically experience snowfall.
Nobody wants their power cut off – even temporarily – in the winter. But it looks like it could happen in some areas. It's a good time to get your preparedness plans in order.

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