Heat wave could cause more blackouts, high utility prices

Weather

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — U.S. spot power and natural gas prices soared Thursday to their highest in a year or more in several parts of the country as consumers cranked up air conditioners to escape an early spring heat wave.

Even before the latest heat wave, gas futures were trading near a 13-year high as much higher prices in Europe and Asia kept demand for U.S. liquefied natural gas exports strong, especially since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

In Pennsylvania, next-day power at the PJM West hub and gas at the Dominion South hub rose to their highest since the February freeze in 2021.

AccuWeather forecast that high temperatures in Philadelphia would jump from 79 Fahrenheit on Thursday to 87 on Friday and 95 on Saturday. The city’s normal high is 75.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid for most of that state, forecast demand would peak at a monthly record Thursday.

And the problem could become worse this summer.

A new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation suggests that the combination of drought, heat, potential cyberattacks, geopolitical conflicts and supply chain problems could disrupt the power supply, leading to blackouts for a number of states in the U.S. this summer.

The regulatory body found that large swathes of the U.S. and parts of Canada are at an elevated or high risk of energy shortfalls during the summer’s hottest months.

Droughts hamper states’ ability to harvest energy from hydroelectric dams, as in 2021, for example, when the state was forced to shut off hydropower generation at the Oroville Dam in Northern California for the first time, exacerbating the price surge Americans are already enduring.

Romany Webb, an associate research scholar at Columbia Law School, told NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Thursday that this could become the new normal if we don’t begin to rethink how we design, construct and operate the electricity system.

“We know that the impacts of climate change — higher temperatures, more intense heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts — all affect the electricity system. They make it harder to producer and deliver electricity,” Webb said.

“And if we don’t recognize that and start planning accordingly, it’s going to be difficult to keep the lights on,” she continued.

Webb went on to say that a short-term solution is factoring climate change into electric system planning.

“Think about how different climate impacts will affect different parts of the system and where we need to make those investments to upgrade facilitates,” she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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