In New York and the New England region, freezing temperatures for weeks have sent demand for natural gas through the roof. In fact, New England was the most expensive market in the world for natural gas just last week. Due to the high cost of natural gas, many dual-fuel burning generators have had to switch from burning gas to burning oil since it has become cheaper in recent days. Wholesale electricity prices have also skyrocketed in recent weeks as generation and transmission are maxed out.
With temperatures expected to stay frigid through the Saturday, the grid is scrambling to keep up with demand. Unfortunately, they will have to do that without the help of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in eastern MA.
The 685 MW nuclear plant went offline Thursday at around 2 pm local time, just as the storm was hitting the Boston area. The cause is still under investigation but one of the two lines that connect the power plant to the electrical grid was disconnected. The plant was then shut down for maintenance with no indication of when it will be back online.
Entergy spokesman Patrick O‘Brien said the company was “working to determine the cause of the line loss,” noting the plant had been operating safely for 227 days following the completion of its most recent refueling outage in May 2017.
In the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, oil, gas and hydroelectric power combined to make up for the electricity generation lost. While there are currently no local outages, a large, non-gas generator outage is exactly what ISO-NE was trying to prevent during this cold spell.
Currently, about 50% of natural gas generators in New York and New England are duel-fuel and can rely on oil as a backup. However, with Pilgrim’s shutdown and gas being diverted to home heating, many are afraid oil burning plants may burn through their stockpiles faster than expected.
In New York, grid operators say the storm response has been routine with all generators running normally. However, transmission and gas pipelines are running at max capacity right now trying to keep up with demand.
As of Friday, both New York and the New England region are projecting they can meet demand with no outages. However, it is clear that the arctic air is putting a strain on the grid with transmission and generation running at max capacity and the Pilgrim plant shutting down. Thankfully, warmer temperatures are forecasted starting Sunday.