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America’s Power Grid Could Buckle Under Sweltering Summer Heat, Watchdog Warns

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Considerable portions of the U.S. face heightened risks of blackouts over the summer months, according to a new report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

Most of New England, Texas, the Midwest and the Southwest face “elevated risk” of electricity shortages this summer if demand peaks at levels above normal, according to NERC’s 2024 summer reliability report. While the specific challenges that each region may face this summer differ, several large swaths of the country could have to respond to blackout conditions if solar and wind power fail to produce as much power as expected during periods of tight supply and more extreme summer weather.

“NERC’s latest reliability assessment shows that our electricity grid is becoming increasingly reliant on weather-dependent sources of electricity, leaving one-third of the country at elevated risk of blackouts this summer,” Michelle Bloodworth, CEO of America’s Power, a pro-coal advocacy group, said of the NERC report and its findings.

Some of the nation’s hottest, most populous states and regions, including Texas and California, are listed among the areas at “elevated” risk, according to NERC. The report covers June through September of this year.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which covers much of the Midwest, faces higher risks if solar and wind fail to deliver in key scenarios, NERC’s report states.

“MISO is expected to have sufficient resources, including firm imports, for normal summer peak demand. However, it can be challenging for MISO to meet above-normal peak demand if wind and solar resource output is lower than expected,” NERC’s report reads. “Wind generator performance during periods of high demand is a key factor in determining whether there is sufficient electricity supply on the system or if external (non-firm) supply assistance is required to maintain reliability.”

The report issued a similar warning about the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region, which covers nearly all of Texas. ERCOT narrowly avoided blackouts in the summer of 2023, when a prolonged heat wave set in over the state.

“As a result of continued vigorous growth in both loads and solar and wind resources, there is a risk of emergency conditions in the summer evening hours when solar generation begins to ramp down. Contributing to the elevated risk is a potential need, under certain grid conditions, to limit power transfers from South Texas into the San Antonio region,” the report states. “These grid conditions can occur when demand is high and wind and solar output is low in specific areas, straining the transmission system and necessitating South Texas generation curtailments and potential firm load shedding to avoid cascading outages.”

NERC has previously warned that huge slices of the country face higher risks of blackouts in more extreme seasonal conditions.

The Biden administration has spent and regulated aggressively to push the American power grid away from fossil fuels and toward intermittent generation from sources like solar and wind. Electricity demand is also projected to grow rapidly in the coming years, due in large part to Biden administration policies driving electric vehicle (EV) adoption, building electrification and new semiconductor manufacturing facilities, according to Grid Strategies LLC, a power sector consultancy.

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