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Blackouts, high energy prices expected in summer of pain

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Several parts of North America are at a high risk of having blackouts this summer because of expected high temperatures, droughts, and ongoing supply chain issues, the North American Electric Reliability Corp warned in a reliability assessment this week.

Residents of Austin, Texas, had a preview of what's to come earlier this month, when a spring heat wave left thousands without power for several hours.

The problem is supply and demand. Scorching summer heat in parts of Texas and California could increase demand for energy for air conditioning, which would put more stress on an already strained power grid.

On the supply side, electricity generation and transmission projects across the country have been put on hold because of "product unavailability, shipping delays, and labor shortages," the assessment said. Extreme drought in the western United States makes it more difficult for hydro generators to produce electricity, complicating supply problems.

"In the Western Interconnection, the widespread drought and below-normal snowpack has the potential to lead to lower than average output from hydro generators, threatening the availability of electricity for transfers throughout the Interconnection. In Texas, wide-area heat events coupled with drought can lead to higher than expected peak electricity demand and tighter reserve conditions," NERC said.

Meanwhile, in the Midcontinent ISO, a power grid that supplies energy in the Midwest from Louisiana to the Great Lakes region, a key transmission line connecting the northern and southern areas will be out of service in the start of summer because it was damaged by a tornado in December. NERC projects that the north and central areas of this region will face a capacity shortfall of 2.3% from last year.

On top of the risks posed by extreme weather, the assessment found that coal-fired power plants are having difficulty obtaining fuel because of supply chain issues as well. And another risk is that power grid infrastructure is vulnerable to cyber security threats from Russia and other U.S. adversaries.

High demand for electricity, constrained supply, and bad weather — it's a recipe for disaster.

"Grid operators in affected areas will need all available tools to keep the system in balance this summer," said Mark Olson, the manager of reliability assessments for NERC. "Over the longer term, system planners and resource adequacy stakeholders need to keep potentially abnormal weather conditions like these in mind so that we continue to have a reliable and resilient bulk power system.”

Aside from the elevated risk of blackouts, American consumers everywhere should expect higher energy costs because of constrained supply and increased demand. The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently estimated there will be a 3.9% increase in the price of electricity for U.S. households this summer. By summer's end, Americans are expected to spend 0.9% more for electricity than in summer 2021, Fox Business reports.

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