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Region's power grid operator ready for winter

Source: 
The Mercury

LOWER PROVIDENCE - While this week's sudden cold snap may have been predicted by weather service agencies, its timing - so early in the year - was a bit unusual.

The freezing temperatures may have led many to turn their home or business heat on for the first time this season - and to think about what the winter season may bring.

Just last week, PJM Interconnection, the operator of the country's largest electric grid, said it - and its utility company members - are ready to meet the forecasted winter electricity demand. PJM, with headquarters in Lower Providence, ensures the reliability of the high-voltage electric power system across 13 states - including Pennsylvania - and serves 65 million people.

"We're confident that PJM will be able to serve customer demand reliably this winter," Michael E. Bryson, senior vice president, PJM operations, said in a press release. "Our diverse resource portfolio, healthy reserves and strong-and-improving generator performance are assets in operating an efficient system, and we collaborate with our generation and transmission owners to prepare for the most extreme cold weather scenarios."

Each year, PJM looks at the expected demand for electricity, weather predictions and other factors in developing its forecast for operations through the winter months.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted a warmer-than-average winter this year for much of the region PJM serves. In terms of precipitation, wetter-than-average conditions are possible across the northern portions of PJM's service area, while average precipitation is forecasted across the southern portion of PJM's service area.

PJM works with its member utilities to prepare for cold weather by testing resources, conducting drills and surveying generators for fuel inventory. The agency also coordinates with natural gas supply and transportation across the region as part of its winter operations.

"In addition, PJM also studies unforeseen impacts of pipeline service disruptions and the effect on generators, and has found that there are no associated reliability concerns for the coming winter," the release stated.

PJM forecasts peak demand at around 134,000 megawatts this winter, and has more than 187,000 MW of resources that includes natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydropower, wind, solar and other resources.

Last winter, PJM served a peak of nearly 139,000 MW on Jan. 31. Its all-time winter peak of 143,295 MW was set on Feb. 20, 2015.

A peak refers to the highest demand for electricity the system will experience in a day. Peaks in demand can occur early in the day, depending on weather conditions, according to Susan Buehler, chief communications officer for PJM.

"We often see a distinct peak in the morning because it's dark and another distinct peak in the evening during winter months as people turn on heat and lights earlier in the evening with darkness," she said.

On Tuesday, the peak load of 110,000 MW occurred at 6 p.m, while Wednesday's peak load of 113,000 MW occurred at 7 a.m., according to Buehler.

She added that in the winter, prolonged periods of cold weather can have a detrimental impact on generating resources - higher forced outage issues due to equipment problems and fuel availability issues for prolonged frigid temperatures.

"We work closely with members and utility partners to coordinate during extreme cold and hot weather," she said.

PECO, one of PJM's member utilities, announced last week that is has completed projects necessary to ensure its natural gas and electric systems are ready to meet winter energy needs. The utility provides electricity to more than 1.6 million customers within Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia and York counties and provides natural gas to more than 529,000 customers.

In 2019, the company installed more than 80,000 feet of underground natural gas main and completed 185 projects to replace nearly 200,000 feet of existing natural gas line with new plastic pipe, according to a press release.

For the winter heating system, the company said it has secured natural gas supply and completed filling storage facilities. It has also inspected more than 13,000 miles of aerial electric lines and 500 manholes to make any needed repairs to underground electrical equipment.

"This proactive work helps ensure that we are prepared to meet the increased demand from our customers when they need it most," John McDonald, PECO senior vice president and COO, said in the release.

There are some steps customers can take to prepare for the winter months, according to the utility, including: cleaning air vents around the house; installing storm windows and doors; checking weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors; installing seals behind electrical outlets and switches along exterior walls; and having their heating system inspected by a qualified technician.

The PJM interconnection is made up of transmission owning utilities that operate on a regional basis. Among the members are PECO, Met-Ed, PPL Corp., PSE&G and Delmarva Power. PJM serves 65 million people in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. For more information about PJM Interconnection http://pjm.com.

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