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New England power grid operators prepare for extreme summer weather

Power utility lines.
Robert F. Bukaty
Power utility lines.

Operators of New England’s power grid say they’re ready for summer and the unpredictable weather it may bring.

ISO New England is responsible for keeping the electricity on in the region. They operate the power grid, manage the electricity markets and plan for the future.

According to operations forecasting supervisor Mike Fontaine, one of the biggest drivers of demand in New England is the temperature.

“Just a one-degree change in temperature can impact the demand in New England significantly, by half a gigawatt or more,” Fontaine said. “That’s a big, significant change.”

Mike Knowland, ISO-NE’s manager of forecast and scheduling, said the winter is the busiest time for the grid, but the summer can strain it, too — especially during heat waves or hurricanes, which are expected this year.

Knowland said the operators spend months preparing for each season — even years if you factor in capacity auctions.

“We have a forecast that tells us approximately what we can expect over the course of the hottest of hot days that will be there during the summer,” Knowland said. “The generators that we need to have online during the summer peaking periods, we run those through an assessment to ensure that we have enough energy and power capability to meet that peak forecasted demand throughout each week of the summer.”

Once a specific weather forecast is available (usually three weeks in advance), Knowland said they’re deciding how it will translate to strain on the grid.

“We're looking at the hourly demand over the course of every single day, the next day, whether or not we can meet that demand with the generation that we have available,” Knowland said. “And if not, we can take actions as simple as bringing on more generation when we need it, or accounting for more imports from our neighbors if we need it, into emergency actions if they’re necessary.”

And, in the case of a major weather event, Knowland said ISO New England will coordinate with utility distributors to keep the power as reliable as possible.

They begin tracking the storm around 10 days in advance and increase communications with the electrical companies with boots on the ground.

“When the storm finally does make landfall, they would be responsible for sending out the trucks and ensuring that they have the right people in the right places. We can help coordinate that from a bulk transmission system point of view,” Knowland said.

For updates on the power grid, and tips on how to save electricity, Knowland recommends visiting the ISO-NE app.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.
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