While Californians struggle with power shortages and blackouts, New Englanders can rest assured they will likely not have to face such problems in the near future.
Over the past 18 months, the Independent System Operator of New England, a non-profit energy organization, has overseen a massive restructuring project in the New England power grid. The region has invested in new power plants and in new technologies for more efficient ways of production, said Beryl Lyons, spokeswoman for Connecticut’s public utility department.
As a result of the great interest in building and developing power plants, New England now has more than 330 generators which produce 26,000 megawatts of electric power. In the next year, the ISO expects an additional 200 megawatts to be added to that.
While the power supply is increasing this year by 10 percent, economic forecasters predict electricity usage will only grow at 2 percent per year.
“The capacity curve is well ahead of the demand curve in New England,” ISO spokeswoman Ellen Foley said, contrasting this to the situation in California. “One of the primary differences between California and New England is that demand is not outstripping supply in New England. It’s the opposite.”
While the electric supply is safe, the New England power grid could face a potential problem in getting natural gas, as a significant portion of the region’s supply comes from Canada, said Beryl Lyons, spokeswoman for the state’s public utility department.
“If the new plants are going to function on natural gas, it could put a strain on our supply,” Lyons said. “However, we will be monitoring the situation very closely.”
Foley said Connecticut’s electric power situation is very different from California’s.
While California entered this time of crisis with a power deficit, New England has more than enough power to meet expected needs, Lyons added.
Also, California is extremely dependent on importing electricity; more than 25 percent of its power comes from other states. New England imports only 15 percent of its total power from external sources, and as more power plants are built, that figure is likely to decrease.
Environmental laws are also a factor, since regulations more stringent in California make it difficult to build power plants there, Lyons said.
Diversifying the sources of power is an extremely important preventive measure, Lyons added.
According to an ISO study, 24 percent of the region’s power comes from nuclear power. It is followed by oil at 20 percent, natural gas at 16 percent and coal at 13 percent.
As of now, the power supply in New England is in hardly any danger, but this does not mean the region is immune from temporary power failures, Lyons said.
The region uses significantly more power during the summer than it does in the winter, and a prolonged summer heat wave could lead to a “brownout,” during which voltage is reduced, she added.
But for the general public in New England, Lyons said the chances of such a situation are slim.
“Under known, projected circumstances, both Connecticut and New England have enough power and will continue to have enough,” Lyons said. “We are not in California’s situation, nor are we likely to be in the near future and certainly not this summer.”