A Quarter of Americans at Risk of Winter Power Blackouts, Grid Emergencies


(Bloomberg) — Large swaths of North America may face blackouts and other energy emergencies during bouts of extreme cold this winter as coal and natural gas supplies tighten, according to a US regulatory agency.

The electric grids at most risk of supply shortfalls are in Texas, the central US system stretching from the Great Lakes to Louisiana, New England and the Carolinas, the North American Electric Reliability Council said in its seasonal assessment Thursday. Severe weather may stress grids by causing demand to soar while supplies of natural gas, coal and back-up fuel oil are all tight, leaving little room for error, according to the report.

“The trend is we see more areas at risk, we see more retirements of critical generation, fuel challenges and we are doing everything we can,” John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment, said during a media briefing. “These challenges don’t kind of appear out of nowhere.”

NERC’s warning touches at least a quarter of Americans, who are poised to see already high utility bills soar even more this winter. Electricity demand has rebounded faster than anyone anticipated after the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns. Prices of gas, the No. 1 power-plant fuel in the US, are high because of below-average stockpiles and strong exports to Europe as Russia wages a war on Ukraine. A possible railroad strike also threatens to impact coal supplies.