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High demand for electricity during coming N.J. deep freeze is concern for utilities

By: Warren Cooper |

As snow and temperatures fall in Hunterdon today, Jan. 21, the county’s electrical supplier and the manager of the region’s power grid are preparing for another round of sub-freezing temperatures..

Snow itself does not pose a serious problem for utilities, according to a Public Service Electric and Gas Company release, but heavy snow, icing and strong winds can bring down wires as can vehicles crashing into utility poles. The company has called in additional equipment and personnel on hand ahead of possible electrical outages.

Mid-day on Tuesday, the National Weather Service called the storm, “a fast moving but potent weather system” that could drop as much as 10 inches of snow on Hunterdon by midnight.

Bitterly cold air will quickly settle in after the storm, according to forecasters. The Weather Service’s Winter Storm Warning remains in effect until 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Temperatures are expected to fall through the teens to 6 F overnight tonight and stay below 20 F until Saturday. Brief relief into the low 30s on Saturday is anticipated to be followed by temperatures in the 20s Sunday and Monday, Jan. 27.

While PSE&G delivers the juice, PJM Interconnection is the company that manages the regional power grid, supplying electricity to 61 million customers in the 13-state North Atlantic region that includes New Jersey.

The cold snap two weeks ago that saw temperatures fall to single digits and stay there for a few days led PJM to call for energy conservation on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 6 and 7.

PJM officials warned that the record winter electricity demand could lead to voltage reductions to protect the integrity of the grid. Officials lifted the call for conservation on Jan. 8 without imposing voltage reductions.

PJM officials have extended a present cold weather alert through Friday, preparing personnel and facilities for conditions when temperatures fall near or below 10 F, according to spokesman Ray Dotter.

“PJM communicates with generator owners and tells them to be prepared to call in additional staff to get all generating units running for the morning load pickup,” said Dotter. “They must take extra care to maintain the equipment so that it doesn’t freeze in the cold weather.”

Peak electricity demands are expected to be well above normal for winter, but below the record demands experienced two weeks ago,” he said. “No steps affecting the public are expected at this time.”

Steps that might affect the public, such as a voltage reduction, would be prompted by a combination of high demand for electricity and a shortage of available power supplies, said Dotter. “Prolonged periods of extreme cold weather put a strain on generating equipment, both because of the effects of the cold on the equipment and because some units are called on for longer periods than normal.”

When the company has ordered a voltage reduction it’s usually at 5 percent, he said. “It provides a temporary decrease in demand, but the reduction is within the normal range of operation for most electrical equipment.”

“Most people will never notice one,” he said.