U.S. DOE Urges NJ, Other States to Spend Big on Hardening Power Grid

Tom Johnson | July 15, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Report indicates extreme weather caused by global warming looks to be fact of life in 21st century

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Widespread power outages due to extreme weather, such as powerful hurricanes, are likely to occur more frequently in New Jersey and elsewhere, according to a federal agency.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy released last week warns that those occurrences will probably be more common in the future as a result of global climate change creating more stress on an already strained electric power grid.

Storm surges flooding electricity utility power substations. Warming water temperatures, creating problems for power plants relying on water to cool generating units. Increasing air temperatures, which decrease the efficiency of the electric transmission and distribution system at the same time demand for energy is rising.

All are expected to be more the rule than the exception, according to the report. “The nation’s ability to produce, deliver, and store is energy is affected by climate change,’’ it concluded.

Sound familiar? New Jersey has already suffered from some of these events, most notably huge storm surges that flooded 58 utility substations, knocking out power to millions of customers during Hurricane Sandy last October.

All of the Northeast’s nuclear power plants also were shut down by the superstorm, according to the report.

The storm, the DOE indicated, left ports and power plants in the Northeast, as well as oil refineries, fuel pipelines, and petroleum terminals either damaged or out of service. In New Jersey alone, 7 million people were left without power, while gasoline shortages were widespread because service stations were unable to pump the fuel they had on hand.

For consumers, the solution to this slew of problems probably means higher energy bills, a prospect state officials concede is necessary if New Jersey is going to take steps to upgrade the power grid to make it more resilient in the event of tomorrow’s extreme weather and to restore electricity more quickly when power is lost.

“The weather patterns seem to be changing. We’ve got to adapt to it and we’ve got to harden the grid,’’ said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for PSEG Power, an affiliate of Public Service Electric & Gas, the state’s largest electric and gas utility.

For PSE&G, the storm triggered a major initiative to spend up to $4 billion to make its power grid more resilient, a filing under consideration by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Other utilities are likely to follow suit, given a proceeding underway by the state agency to determine ways to enhance the reliability of the grid.

The report urged the nation has to make those expenditures. “Continued investments are required to promote energy security in the face of a changing climate,’’ it said.

The report said increasing air temperatures are expected to increase transmission losses, reduce energy capacity, and boost stresses on the distribution system. The transmission systems deliver electricity from power plants to substations, which then deliver to homes and businesses.

In addition, the Northeast is projected to experience a 67 percent increase in heavy precipitation, which could increase flooding around power plants, many of which are located in coastal areas, the report stated.

According to the report, net energy expenditures to deal with the problems are projected to increase by $6.1 billion to as much as $15 billion nationwide by 2025. By 2100, the cost could range from $26 billion to $57 billion, depending on how successful the nation is in reducing greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change.

The report echoes similar conclusions reached by other studies, including a draft National Climate Assessment Report, which projected a 11 percent jump in consumers’ bill due to global climate change.