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25% of U.S. Faces Potential Winter Electricity Outages

Fuel Shortages Have Increased Risk to U.S. Power Grid

A large section of the U.S. power grid is at risk of blackouts during severe winter weather this year, according to new findings from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

Areas including Texas, Louisiana, the Carolinas, New England, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota are at most risk of electricity shortages, according to NERC’s annual Winter Reliability Assessment.

The report cites fuel supply risks, limited natural gas, peak-demand projections, and inadequate generator weatherization as contributing factors to grid failures this upcoming winter.

“Fuel supply issues appear prominently in this year’s assessment. Reliability Coordinators across North America are closely monitoring the coal and liquid fuel inventories, as well as the potential impacts that transportation disruptions can have on availability and replenishment of all fuels,” John Moura, NERC’s director of Reliability Assessment and Performance Analysis, said in a statement. “Also, while the grid has a sufficient supply of capacity resources under normal winter conditions, we are concerned that some areas are highly vulnerable to extreme and prolonged cold. As a result, load-shedding may be required to maintain reliability.”

The warning comes after two years of a domestic energy strategy largely aimed at curbing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. NERC says that part of what is driving concern over reliability of generators throughout this winter season are fuel supplies, including natural gas, fuel oil, and coal.

Following a summer of high electricity demand and high natural gas prices, inventories of coal and fuel oil (fossil fuels that drive U.S. electricity production) are lower than usual, creating additional challenges for maintaining reliable electricity generation.

“As the demand for electricity risks outpacing the available supply during peak winter conditions, consumers face an inconceivable but real threat of rolling blackouts,” Jim Matheson, chief executive officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. “It doesn’t have to be this way. But absent a shift in state and federal energy policy, this is a reality we will face for years to come.”

On Nov. 18, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that natural gas storage has been refilled to near the previous five year average, and now exceeds the level in storage from a year ago.

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