Where Summer Blackouts Are Most Likely
In contrast, NERC says that Connecticut's "capacity margin" is actually negative. NERC notes that New England grid operators have obtained agreements from some electricity consumers to interrupt their service should the load become too heavy, as PJM has done. But those arrangements give the region only 200 megawatts extra to count on. That's enough to power at most 200,000 homes, while Connecticut has 1.3 million households.
Southern California's problems arise mainly because it relies on importing significant amounts of power from elsewhere in the West, meaning the transmission system will be heavily loaded. But if power marketers try to ship large amounts of electricity on those same lines to take advantage of high prices, the system will have a "limited ability" to support those transfers, NERC concludes.
Since the nation's grid is interconnected, the spillover point authorities worry about for power problems from Connecticut is New York City. Transmission problems in neighboring states and Canada played a key role in at least two of the major outages in the history of the nation's largest city: the Northeast blackout of 1965 and the massive eight-state blackout of 2003.
In the wake of the 2003 outagethe largest in North American history, affecting 50 million people and causing an estimated $6 billion in financial lossesa special task force concluded that the single most important step that could be taken was to make mandatory and enforceable the voluntary reliability standards that were then in effect for electric companies. (The mistakes of Ohio company First Energy led to outages that cascaded across the Northeast in a matter of seconds.)
Congress acted on the recommendation in its big 2005 energy bill, and beginning June 4, NERC and eight regional organizations will have legal authority for the first time to enforce those standards. Violators can be fined $1 million per day per violation of any of the 83 standards in place so far. The standards run the gamut from technical voltage requirements to mandates on how systems must communicate with other systems if power problems arise.
For the first time, NERC highlighted an emerging problem developing on the nation's electricity grid. In Texas, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, large wind farms built in remote locations are pouring electricity onto transmission systems never designed to carry that much energy. As a result, all three regions are facing increased transmission line congestion and are performing studies on how to better integrate wind into the nation's electricity system while ensuring reliable operation.