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Heatwaves: The Risks Will Only Increase

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Jun 21, 2022

“This is a larger issue than it has been in the past,” Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said.  The threat of a system failure brought on by extreme temperatures has utility companies and energy providers on edge.

‘Catastrophic’ is how Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, described the impact inflation and rising energy bills are having on middle-class Americans. 

“For middle class families it’s very tough — they’re getting hit with higher gasoline prices, higher home energy prices, higher next winter home heating costs,” Wolfe said.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s summer energy outlook, the average price of residential electricity is projected to rise nearly 4% over last summer.

High costs and power outages are not the only by-products of extremely hot temperatures.   “On any day with extreme heat, emergency rooms in Los Angeles see an additional 1,500 patients,” said Dr. David Eisenman, director of the Center for Public Health and Disasters at the University of California, Los Angeles.  “We estimate that an additional 16 people die on a single day of heat in Los Angeles County.” 

Beth Garza, a former Austin Energy manager and independent market monitor for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), noted the current heatwave struck before summer officially started. This is presenting a very real challenge for utilities nationwide.  In Austin, Texas the high was 101 degrees today and the forecast spells out a very hot and very dry summer ‘that’s going to put more stress on the grid,” Garza explained.  "That means the bigger risks are ahead of us."

“It’s important for utilities to really be ramping up their demand-response programs to help manage peak needs,” said Toor.  “We’re going to need a real focus on resource adequacy as we move into this world of longer heat waves, more intense heat waves, and loss of hydropower,” he said.  Xcel and ERCOT have both explained their strategies for battling climate driven events like this heatwave.  ERCOT has been purchasing additional backup power reserve. "So, Texans, for $1 per month, are receiving a vastly more reliable grid to ensure that the lights stay on,” said utility commission Chairman Peter Lake.

Xcel-Colorado president Robert Kenney acknowledged the situation, saying it “does present challenges for us. But we are prepared for those challenges. 

‘We know the higher temperatures, and sustained higher temperatures, are climate-driven. We are prepared. We have our own meteorological studies. We pay attention to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We make sure we have adequate resources on line,” Kenney said. Prevention is key.  “The fact that we’re seeing higher heat sustained for longer periods” shows the “the need to continue to deploy renewable” electricity systems, Kenney said.

Garza refused to make any promises regarding the grid in Texas.  Instead, she plainly said, “The risks of having a major system issue will only increase the longer we have these extremely hot temperatures."

Xcel-Colorado says, ‘We are prepared.”  What does your utility’s ‘readiness’ plan look like and how will you combat the heat?



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