For example, utilities that supply natural gas to customers for heat can typically take all the gas they need from pipelines before any excess goes to electricity generators. In regions with limited pipeline capacity, such as the Northeast, planners say there might not be enough gas to heat homes and generate electricity simultaneously during a cold snap.
“In the winter there could be a significant and sudden unavailability of power,” said former Vermont regulator Rich Sedano, who directs the Regulatory Assistance Project, a nonprofit advisory group. “It’s critical that this emerging threat to the grid is addressed.”
ITC Holdings’ Joe Welch argues increased spending on the grid in recent years reflects how quickly it is aging, not a concerted effort to modernize or strengthen it.
“We’ve done paltry little,” he said.
But planners say changes made since 2003 at least give grid operators better control and add flexibility.
“We can’t redirect hurricanes or prevent every cyberattack, but we can focus on resilience,” said Terry Boston, president of PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization serving 13 states.
For now, there appears to be enough electricity capacity to meet demand, which has remained relatively flat since 2005. The nation’s natural gas plants aren’t fully used, and wind, solar and other renewable generation have been built to comply with state renewable power mandates.
“Many feel there is a very long fuse here, and there may not be a bomb at the end of it,” Sedano said.
Franko reported from Columbus, Ohio; Fahey reported from New York. Find the reporters on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey and http://www.twitter.com/kantele10 .