Electricity demand soars, shuts some plants

Those in Toledo, state not affected

Cold weather has caused the shutdown of numerous electric plants that generate power for the Midwest. and the East.
Cold weather has caused the shutdown of numerous electric plants that generate power for the Midwest. and the East.

Demand for natural gas, which was expected to set a record Tuesday with temperatures in northwest Ohio reaching subzero double digits, ended up being slightly less than expected.

Demand for electricity, on the other hand, rose significantly with the frigid weather across the Midwest and the East.

The demand caused by cold weather on Tuesday caused the shutdown of numerous electric plants that generate a combined 36,600 megawatts within the 13 states controlled by PJM Interconnection, the Philadelphia-area grid operator in Valley Forge, Pa., that oversees Ohio and the territory of FirstEnergy Corp.

Paula Dupont-Kidd, a PJM spokesman, said increased demand from the cold knocked some plants offline, including those that are fueled by natural gas. Extremely high residential usage resulted in those plants temporarily not receiving enough natural gas to run production.

In essence, because homes were being served with natural gas first, those plants couldn’t get enough for their needs and were shut down, she said.

PJM said the extreme cold drove power use to record levels. On Tuesday morning, the peak demand of 138,600 megawatts broke its record for the previous winter peak. One megawatt can power 1,000 homes.

Part of that had to do with large numbers of people at home from work or school and using televisions, computers, and other electronic devices that would normally sit idle on a weekday.

As a result of the plant shutdowns — which amounted to 20 percent of total capacity in the PJM system and included FirstEnergy’s 911-megawatt Beaver Valley Unit 1 nuclear plant in western Pennsylvania — the grid operator said electric power supplies became tight on Tuesday with available reserves much lower than normal.

PJM said none of the Ohio generating plants were down, including those in the Toledo area.

In Ohio, FirstEnergy operates or has interests in Toledo Edison Co.’s Bay Shore Plant in Oregon, the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Oak Harbor, and the Blue Creek wind farm in Van Wert and Paulding counties, as well as a nuclear plant in Perry, and coal, gas, and oil-fuel plants in Lorain, Cleveland, East Lake, and Ashtabula.

Additionally, it has five coal-fired plants straddling the Ohio River. FirstEnergy, citing tougher federal environmental standards, retired three coal-fired generating units at Bay Shore in 2012. The remaining Bay Shore unit, which generates 215 megawatts using pet coke supplied by the nearby BP-Husky refinery, is still working and not affected by the shutdowns.

In addition to Ohio, FirstEnergy operates in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York.

PJM requested that the 61 million consumers in its region conserve energy until 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The grid operator asked consumers to lower thermostats, postpone using appliances, and turn off electric lights or other unneeded power devices.

Ms. Dupont-Kidd, the PJM spokesman, said the grid operator wasn’t trying to induce panic. “But we still had to make people aware that conditions are tight and we’re using all the power that’s available to us, and as such, we don’t have as much in reserve as we normally have,” she said.

Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, the parent firm of Toledo Edison, said PJM was just being cautious. “They were planning for contingencies. That’s their job, just to ensure there’s an adequate supply,” he said.

FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley Unit One in Pennsylvania automatically shut down at 4:59 p.m. Monday because of a failed main transformer, which takes power generated by the reactor and converts it to voltage for distribution on the grid.

Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the work crews had not yet determined whether the shutdown was because of the cold.

The nuclear plant, which is located Shippingport, Pa., just across the Ohio River from East Liverpool, Ohio, has a spare transformer on the site if the faulty transformer cannot be repaired. The plant was not expected to be out of operation for very long, Ms. Young added.

In Michigan, where electricity is supplied on a separate transmission system, customers were not asked to cut back on usage.

“The system is working as designed,” said Roger Morgenstern, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, which supplies electricity to 1.8 million customers in Michigan. Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, spokesman for DTE Energy, which also serves part of southeast Michigan, said its system was “holding steady” and no conservation measures were sought.

Natural gas delivery, although not a record, was still abnormally high Tuesday.

Chris Kozak, a spokesman for Columbia Gas of Ohio Inc., said the gas utility had expected gas demand statewide on Tuesday to exceed the record 2.5 billion cubic feet it supplied on Jan. 18, 1994, when temperatures in northwest Ohio reached -16.

But Mr. Kozak said the demand, which reached 2.3 billion cubic feet on Monday, tapered to 2.2 billion cubic feet Tuesday because forecasts for frigid temperatures caused large-volume gas users like schools and manufacturers to remain closed and ease demand.

Also, southern Ohio temperatures rose more than expected on Tuesday, which also cut demand, he added.

The cold caused some problems with the delivery of gas.

Mr. Kozak said frozen distribution systems cut gas supplies to seven customers on Monday night in Perrysburg, and six customers in Sylvania and two in Walbridge on Tuesday. Supplies were restored after the problems were fixed, he added.

For customers worried that the extreme cold will inflate their January gas bills, Mr. Kozak said it will be hard to project how much bills will be affected because two days of unexpected warm weather could offset the recent heavy gas usage.

“The rule of thumb is if you saw a 10 to 20 percent increase in usage on your gas bill, that translates to an 8 to 17 percent increase on your bill. And for the average bill, that’s about an $11 to $20 increase,” Mr. Kozak said. “But the problem is you won’t know until the end of the month.”

There’s even less certainty about what a colder December and January will do to gas supplies and costs nationally.

“It’s all going to be based on supply and demand. A short-term storm like this is not going to have an overall impact on long-term prices,” Mr. Kozak said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.