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Published: Thursday, 5/15/2008

Summer shortage of power unlikely


A group charged with ensuring that the Midwest has enough electricity said yesterday that the addition of power plants has given Ohio and 12 other states a 20 percent cushion above expected summer demand.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. said the reserve margin had dipped to 11 percent in 2000 and the group thought that might drop to 7 percent this year.

Instead, serious power demands are not expected in Ohio or Michigan this summer, unlike in 2003 when excessive power demands and problems in northern Ohio led to the nation's worst blackout.

It shut off electricity to 50 million people in the Midwest and Northeast and in Canada.

Electricity demand this summer in the region is expected to be about 184,000 megawatts, down 2 percent from last summer and well below the 212,900 megawatts of capacity, the group's study found.

The region is Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and parts of Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

New technology has been added for this summer in the region to help regulate power flows around Lake Erie, the group found. That includes four super transformers to reduce the electric flow through the lines from the United States and into Canada to prevent one side from overloading the other's power grid, said Mark Lauby, reliability manager for the group.

Power supplies are adequate everywhere in the country but in southern California, which may need voluntary conservation and power interruptions, he said.

One concern this summer is supplies of coal. Demand for coal by Europe is skyrocketing and driving up prices. "This creates a potential coal shortage in 2008 if all generators didn't purchase their coal in advance," Mr. Lauby said.

The study warns of possible East Coast power companies facing dwindling or depleted coal inventories, mainly coal mined in Appalachia.

Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., the parent of Toledo Edison, said the utility is aware of the coal situation but has locked up sufficient supplies through long-term contracts.

Also, FirstEnergy does not get all of its coal from Appalachia. Some comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming-Montana, he said. "We are working with our suppliers to ensure adequate supplies, but frankly, we don't think it's an issue at all for us," he said.

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

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