July 25, 2013

Editorial: Watching out for our interests

You might not know it, but a nonprofit organization helped you retain your electricity during that big heat wave last week.

The New York Independent System Operator was formed in 1999 to manage the competitive market that buys power — hydro, natural gas, wind, etc. — from utility companies.

Every day, System Operator personnel run a transmission grid, looking at forecast demand and holding auctions where utility companies offer power for different prices.

The nonprofit chooses the best deals for consumers. It also makes sure enough power is available, partly through programs that can conserve power when the heat is really on — literally.

Last week, the Northeast suffered through six days of sweltering temperatures, draining power and setting a record peak demand for electricity of 33,956 megawatts in a one-hour period July 19. Power demand usually averages 18,000 megawatts.

While 60 percent of demand comes from the Hudson Valley and New York City, upstate New York can be affected by the onerous pressure for power.

System Operator aims to meet the forecast peak demand, plus an extra 17 percent. So a sustained heat wave calls for special measures.

The system was able to keep power flowing through its participants’ generation and transmission assets, demand-response programs, inter-regional coordination and a large supply — about 1,000 megawatts — of wind power, some of which likely came from the North Country.

The system is better equipped now to prevent major emergencies, according to System Operator spokesman David Flanagan, who met recently with the Press-Republican Editorial Board.

Remember the Northeast blackout of 2003? Flanagan said that can be blamed, basically, on one tree damaging power lines in Ohio and a cascading effect that swept through the Northeast, Midwest and Ontario.

“We have a much better sense now of what is happening in the system,” Flanagan told us.

As for future power, he sees the underwater transmission lines planned for Lake Champlain as a big gain for the state’s supply system, referring to it as being “like a big extension cord” to downstate power companies.

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