The region has more than enough electricity production to meet demand this summer under typical or extreme weather conditions, according to the organization that oversees New England’s power grid.
In its annual forecast for the summer, ISO-New England says it expects electricity demand is forecasted to peak at 24,810 megawatts (MW) in a hot late afternoon, while “above-average summer weather, such as an extended heat wave, could push demand up to 26,711 MW.”
Both those figures are far below the 31,000 MW of capacity production that is available. One megawatt, or one million watts, the the electricity used by between 800 and 1,000 homes. The measures mostly includes production capacity from power plants that burn natural gas and nuclear plants, which produce about three-quarters of the region’s electricity, as well as dams, solar and wind farms, and also some “non-wires solutions” such as being able to reduce demand from large commercial customers as needed.
ISO-New England (ISO stands for Independent System Operator, an entity that coordinates and monitors the operation of multiple electric utilities) makes such forecasts twice a year, ahead of the winter and summer periods when electricity usage rises throughout the region. In its announcement, however, the group noted that they are not a guarantee.
“These forecasts do not account for unprecedented, extreme conditions – the type of weather seen in California and Texas during the past year. ISO-New England is currently working on ways to plan and prepare for these types of low-probability, high-impact events,” the group said in a release.
Concern about electricity shortages or rolling blackouts tend to be less urgent than in winter in New England because in summer there is no building heat to compete with power production for the supply of natural gas.
Last summer’s demand peak, on July 27, was 25,121 MW. The all-time record for peak demand was set on August 2, 2006, when demand reached 28,130 MW after a prolonged heat wave. Consumer demand for electricity is highest during the summer because of air conditioning use.
The pandemic’s scrambling of economic activity upended electricity usage. National usage a year ago, during widespread lockdowns, was the lowest in two decades and was more than 7% below average in New England, where sharp declines in commercial use were partly made up by residences using more power due to working from home.