Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Frigid weather shuts down electric plants, disrupts delivery of energy


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

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

Demand for electricity, on the other hand, rose significantly.

Cold weather and other unforeseen problems today caused the shutdown of numerous electric plants that generate a combined 36,600 megawatts within the 13 states controlled by PJM Interconnection, the Pennsylvania-based grid operator that oversees Ohio and the territory of FirstEnergy Corp.

As a result of the plant shutdowns — which amounted to 20 percent of total capacity in the PJM system — the grid operator said electric power supplies became “tight” today with available reserves much lower than normal.

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

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

Paula Dupont-Kidd, a 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.

PJM said the extreme cold drove power use to record levels. This morning, the peak demand broke its record for the previous winter peak.

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

Chris Kozak, a spokesman for Columbia Gas of Ohio, Inc., said the gas utility had expected gas demand statewide today 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 today because forecasts for frigid temperatures caused large-volume gas users like schools and manufacturers to remain closed and ease demand. Also, temperatures in southern Ohio rose more than expected today which also cut demand, the spokesman added.

The cold caused some problems with the delivery of gas.

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

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

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