According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment, the western United States is “at ‘elevated risk’ of energy emergencies during extreme conditions” like a heatwave in the coming months. The assessment, released last week, cites an ongoing drought as a major reason why.
“Extended drought conditions present varied threats to capacity and energy across the country,” NERC said in an announcement of the assessment. “In the Western Interconnection, the widespread drought and below-normal snowpack has the potential to lead to lower than average output from hydro generators, threatening the availability of electricity for transfers throughout the Interconntection. In Texas, wide-area heat events coupled with drought can lead to higher than expected peak electricity demand and tighter reserve conditions.”
In the Missouri River basin, NERC warned a drought could reduce output from hydropower plants and thermal generators that use river water for cooling, possibly forcing Southwest Power Pool utilities to use emergency procedures during peak periods. In Canada, NERC said Saskatchewan faces a capacity shortfall this summer due to a projected demand increase of over 7.5% from 2021.
“Industry prepares its equipment and operators for challenging summer conditions. Persistent, extreme drought and its accompanying weather patterns, however, are out-of-the-ordinary and tend to create extra stresses on electricity supply and demand,” NERC Manager of Reliability Assessments Mark Olson said in a statement. “Grid operators in affected areas will need all available tools to keep the system in balance this summer.”
The potential energy emergencies this summer would be reminiscent of the 2021 winter deep freeze in Texas, which knocked out power to millions and forced rolling blackouts in the Midwest. More than 200 people died as a result of the crisis.
Record heat, drought and wildfires in the West followed last year’s freeze. The drought and wildfires continued into 2022. In the assessment, NERC said the active wildfire season, as well as the ongoing supply chain issues, could also compromise reliability this summer.
“Supply chain issues and commissioning challenges on new resource and transmission projects are a concern in areas where completion is needed for reliability during summer peak periods,” NERC said. “Active late-summer wildfire season in Western United States and Canada is anticipated, posing some risk to bulk power system reliability.”
Reuters contributed to this report.