The pandemic is altering and possibly reducing New England’s need for electricity, and the region has more than enough production available this winter.
That’s the conclusion of the annual winter projection from ISO-New England, the group that oversees the six-state power grid.
The report projects that the peak usage during the December-through-February season will be about 1.5% less than last year. This may reflect the effects of COVID-19 although the report says New England was seeing “a long-term trend of declining peak winter energy use” even before the pandemic.
Importantly, the seasonal weather forecast says this is likely to be a warmer-than-usual winter, which would lower the amount of winter power used.
ISO-NE says that through the start of December electricity demand has been at or even slightly above expected levels. Its weekly report on the effects of COVID-19 notes that the resurgence of the disease and the possible return of some stay-at-home orders would cut usage: “As (COVID-19) cases are on the rise throughout the region, actions taken by state governments will likely impact system load.”
Forecasts are difficult this year because the pandemic’s scrambling of economic activity has upended electricity usage. During widespread lockdowns in March and April, for example, ISO-NE said regional electricity consumption fell at up to 7.4% compared to the year before, while national usage was the lowest for that time of year since 2001.
And although electricity use has largely rebounded since then the pattern of its usage has shifted, with more residential consumption and less commercial consumption.
As has been the case for many years, ISO-NE said the region has more than enough power plants to produce as much electricity as we’re going to need even during peak periods.
The group forecasts that the region will need a maximum of 20,806 megawatts of electricity during a peak one-hour period, while the various power plants as well as other actions can produce at least 32,036 megawatts at one time.
As has also been the case for years, ISO-NE cautioned that the region’s dependence on natural gas to fire the plants that make about half our electricity at any given time could create problems during another polar vortex or extreme cold spell. Heating gets priority use of natural gas so extreme cold has the potential to leave plants without gas to create electricity or to raise gas prices so high that the power plants won’t operate because they don’t want to lose money.
The organization estimates that 4,000 megawatts of gas-fired electricity is “at risk” of not being produced under such circumstances.
A megawatt, or one million watts, is roughly the amount of electricity used for 800 to 1,000 New England homes at any moment. Seabrook Station nuclear power plant can produce 1,244 megawatts at maximum output.
New Hampshire uses roughly 11% of the electricity consumed in New England. The state usually produces more electricity than it consumes.