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Grid operator orders companies to reduce power usage

By: Scott Kraus |

If it seemed like your boss cut back on the air conditioning Thursday afternoon, you may not have been imagining it.

With temps in the high 90s and the heat wave peaking, the company that oversees the power grid activated a program that commits major users to reduce their electricity use at peak hours when called upon. The goal is to reduce strain on the network.

PJM Interconnection, based in Valley Forge, Montgomery County, oversees an 11-state power grid that serves 61 million people in a region that stretches from New Jersey to Illinois and Pennsylvania to North Carolina.

It ordered energy conservation measures in territories operated by PPL Utilities, PECO Energy and two utilities in Ohio, said spokesman Ray Dotter.

In PPL territory, 1,400 large customers capable of reducing demand by a combined 680 megawatts of power participate in the voluntary program. In PECO territory, 1,600 companies capable of reducing consumption by 444 megawatts take part.

“At our direction, these customers will cut back their usage through a variety of means,” Dotter said. “Some may have their own backup generators.”

Others reduce usage by stopping certain activities during peak hours or shutting down operations that draw heavily on electricity. Employees of the participating companies might notice their offices getting a little warmer than usual if they turn down air conditioners.

Electricity demand peaked in the 11-state PJM territory at 5 p.m. Thursday with demand topping 580,000 megawatts, the highest of the year, he said. It was the first time the energy conservation network plan was activated in the PPL territory this year.

Under the program, companies sign up with private consulting firms called curtailment service providers who aggregate blocks of users that have agreed to reduce power use when called upon. In PPL territory, companies are paid $226 up front per megawatt for every day they are available for the program. If the network is activated, participants are paid market price for every megawatt they conserve.

Lehigh University was among the Lehigh Valley institutions that scaled back electricity usage Thursday in the program, according to an e-mail circulated to the Lehigh community.

“This was accomplished by shutting down the main central chillers on the Asa Packer and Mountaintop campuses,” the email said. “As a result, you may have noticed a slight increase in temperature in campus buildings. Since the heat wave is expected to continue over the next few days, we may be asked to reduce power again during periods of peak power usage.”