Winter outlook for electricity spurs talk of rolling blackouts
October 26, 2005
PORTLAND, Maine --The prospect of tight electricity supplies in Maine this winter is already spurring talk about the possibility of rolling blackouts.
The public will be asked to help avert such a scenario by cutting back on its use of power during the coldest evenings when demand is highest, Kurt Adams, chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission, said Tuesday.
The state plans to launch a television and radio campaign in December to outline the problem and appeal to residents and businesses for help.
"If we all do our part," Adams said, "we'd never get to rolling blackouts."
Natural gas is used to generate up to 40 percent of Maine's electricity. With hurricane damage to Gulf Coast rigs and processing facilities crimping supplies of gas, Adams said some New England power plants could be forced off line during peak demand periods.
As a result, the region's grid operators could implement rolling blackouts that would shut off power for up to an hour to customers in various areas.
"It's a remote possibility, but we need to have a contingency plan," said Adams, adding that similar actions are anticipated elsewhere in New England.
The operator of the regional power grid, ISO-New England, is preparing public service announcements that encourage large businesses to sign contracts that pay them to reduce their usage of electricity by certain amounts when demand is highest.
In addition to promoting conservation, ISO-New England can reduce voltage and ask factories that can burn oil or natural gas to switch to oil.
Worries about a dire power outlook this winter are not shared by everyone.
Attorney Tony Buxton, who represents Maine paper mills and other industries that use large quantities of electricity, said New England has additional capacity that planners haven't identified. But he agreed that some level of voluntary conservation would be helpful on the coldest days.
Beth Nagusky, who heads the state's Office of Energy Independence and Security, denied that the risk is being overblown and said most Mainers would rather reduce power use for a short period than face a possible blackout.
"Our position is, it's better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario," she said. "Just look at New Orleans."
Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com
Link: http://www.boston.com/news/local/maine/ ... blackouts/