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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2010

Experts say Midwest in no danger of blackouts

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The temperatures have been soaring and air conditioners humming this week in northwest Ohio, but a blackout like the biggest one in history that occurred in 2003, or even smaller rolling brown-outs, are highly unlikely scenarios, utility officials said Wednesday.

Power usage in 13 Midwestern states plus the Canadian province of Manitoba, which is controlled by an electricity grid operator based in Indiana, was projected to total 105,329 megawatts Wednesday.

Midwest temperatures generally hit the mid-90s Wednesday and Tuesday and kept electricity usage high from cranked-up air conditioners. Similar temperatures are expected Thursday.

But generating capacity within that geographic footprint is 131,284 megawatts, which provides a 26 percent reserve cushion, according to Midwest Independent System Operator in Carmel, Ind.

Earlier this year, the Midwest ISO had projected that reserve capacity of 15.4 percent would be more than adequate.

Richard Yost, a spokesman for the grid operator, said no utilities whose transmission grid its oversees - including that of FirstEnergy Corp., Toledo Edison's parent firm - issued calls to conserve power or suffered any disruptions this week.

Ellen Raines, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the utility's record peak demand was 13,804 megawatts on Aug. 1, 2006, and the utility hasn't come close to that this week. FirstEnergy has generating capacity of close to 14,000 megawatts.

One megawatt provides power to about 1,000 households.

"Clearly, when you have continued hot, humid weather, electricity usage will go up, but we haven't asked any customers to take conservation steps," Ms. Raines said.

The utility has arranged with some customers to permit power reductions when overall usage is high, but it hasn't had to do that, she said.

The situation was similar in the Ohio territory of American Electric Power, which supplies electricity mainly to central Ohio but extends north to Lima, Findlay, and Tiffin.

"Our territory is just fine. Our capacity has not been a problem, and we have been monitoring it on a daily basis," AEP spokesman Shelly Clark said.

The firm sent out tips this week on conserving power, but that was for customers who wish to lower their bills in a heatwave, she said.

To the north in the DTE Energy territory in Michigan, generating capacity was having no difficulty meeting demand, spokesman Scott Simons said.

"It's really been a better than normal day for us. We've experienced no difficulty meeting expected demand," Mr. Simons said.

The calm situation in the Midwest contrasts to that among East Coast states, where its independent system operator, PJM Interconnection, issued a plea at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday for customers in its territory of 13 states plus the District of Columbia to begin conservation tactics from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. to deal with a heat wave in the triple digits.

The plea went out in the service territories of seven utilities and scattered blackouts were reported in the PJM footprint where the peak demand Wednesday totaled 135,071 megawatts at 5 p.m.

Customers with interruptible service contracts had their power cut.

On Tuesday, the peak demand for the eastern states was 136,398 megawatts, or about 3,200 megawatts shy of its record peak in 2007.

PJM officials were prepared to reduce power to its grid during the afternoon, but demand slackened and no action was taken.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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