About 100 million Americans face power blackouts this summer as roasting weather, overstretched powerplants and unreliable green energy sources combine to create a perfect storm of problems.
States stretching from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean which are home to tens of millions of Americans could have a hard time producing enough power for their residents this summer.
The ‘MISO’ part of America’s power grid – whose full name is the Midcontinent Independent System Operator is at greatest risk of a large -scale outage.
That warning was given by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which released a map showing Michigan, most of Indiana, most of Illinois, and Wisconsin were in trouble.
Also at the highest risk are Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and a small part of East Texas. That high-risk classification means that the existing power grid is ‘potentially insufficient to meet peak load during both normal and extreme conditions,’ according to NERC.
Every state that sits further west of that area is at an elevated risk, according to NERC. That means power plants should have sufficient resources ‘to meet peak load during normal conditions, but potentially insufficient during extreme conditions.’
This map shows the areas at greatest risk of power outages this summer. Orange means a higher than normal risk, with red meaning an extremely high risk
Summer 2021 saw record temperatures across the Pacific Northwest, sending locals flocking to cooling centers such as this one in Portland, Oregon. Regulator NERC fears a repeat heatwave could overload power grids and cause widespread outages
Roads in Seattle take on a mirage-like quality during last year’s heatwave. Forecasters have predicted another roasting summer which they fear could decimate power networks
And large parts of the elevated risk areas saw just those conditions last summer, with normally temperate Oregon and Washington enduring temperatures that soared close to 120f for days on end.
High temperatures will drive people to crank their air conditioners and use up more energy. That puts a strain on existing power grids – and environmental as well as economic factors could make that energy hard to come by.
Parts of the Midwest will experience a ‘capacity shortfall’ driven by increased demand and power plant shutdowns as states turn to more renewable energy sources like hydro and solar.
But those energy sources could be hampered by the weather, as droughts in California and the Pacific Northwest are expected to limit the output of hydroelectric dams.
Wildfires of the sort which have grown increasingly common across the bone-dry western states could also hamper solar energy collection if their smoke and clouds block out the sun, creating a vicious cycle.
Last summer, heat waves spurred blackouts in Washington state as one utility company said it was limiting outages to one hour per customer due to increased demand. About 9,000 homes and businesses were left without power.
Lake Mead in Nevada is currently suffering from a historic drought, making it harder to generate hydroelectricity at a nearby dam
The latest summer energy assessment comes from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which oversees the stability of power grids across the region.
‘It’s a pretty sobering report, and it’s clear the risks are spreading,’ said John Moura, director of reliability assessment and performance analysis. ‘I certainly do think it’s our most cautionary tale here.’
The organization found that power supplies will be stretched thin as energy usage returns to normal, pre-pandemic levels, BNN Bloomberg reports.
Moreover, traditional power plants are shutting down faster than renewable energy sources can fill, creating a power gap that elevates risks in times of need, such as during scorching summers.
Low wind speeds could also trigger blackouts
On top of that, the coal and natural gas plants that are left are running harder than before, raising the risk that they’ll malfunction.
In the Midwest, generation capacity has been slashed by 2.3 percent since last summer after older power plants were closed.
This is a problem as the area already needs power from nearby regions to keep running.
A key transmission line was also damaged by a tornado in December. Repairs will be completed in June.
In Texas, gas-fired plants shut down unexpectedly last week, but the Electric Reliability Council of Texas says the state has enough power to meet expected record demand from June through September.
Some analysts say the Texas report is too optimistic, according to BNN Blomberg.
Near the Pacific coast, wildfires exacerbated by heat and drought could fill the skies with smoke and cut off solar panels’ access to sunshine needed to produce energy.
Grid operators in California have already warned their residents that they could face blackouts over the next three summers as the state moves to renewable energy.
‘We know that reliability is going to be difficult in this time of transition,’ said Alice Reynolds, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.
Droughts could also affect the amount of water flow that can be turned into electricity at hydroelectric dams.
So far this month, two bodies have been uncovered at Lake Mead near Las Vegas as water levels recede.
More human remains were discovered at Callville Bay (pictured) within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on Saturday, less than a week after a man’s body was found in a barrel
On May 7, a couple found skeletal remains at Callville Bay within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, KTNV reported.
Photos of the grisly discovery show a skull, complete with teeth, nestled into the dirt and sand near the lake’s shore. Other bones are seen sticking out of the sand at various angles.
It is not known if the remains were uncovered because of the dwindling water levels.
But police warned that more bodies could turn up after a man’s remains were found in a metal barrel last week that was exposed amid an ongoing drought.
The water level of Lake Mead has dropped so much that a water intake valve which supplies Las Vegas has become visible for the first time since 1971.