July 17, 2013

As heat rises in Maine, a call to crank power down

Mainers are asked to conserve as energy use nears a record during a hot week, and as air conditioners get scarce in stores.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As summer heat bakes New England, the operator of the region's power grid is asking residents to cut back on electricity use. Mainers, meanwhile, are flocking to stores in search of air conditioners and extra fans.

click image to enlarge

Gary F. Smith loads an air conditioner into a shopping cart for customer Mark Flowers of Scarborough, middle, while Tap Fitzgerald receives payment at Maine Hardware in Portland on July 16, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Track New England's Overall Power Usage

The ISO New England website shows the New England load or current demand for power in megawatts – and it's constantly updated. Demand is expected to reach 27,700 megawatts this week. The record was set Aug. 2, 2006 at 28,130 megawatts.

ISO New England said Tuesday that the combination of heat and high humidity that's expected all week could drive power use in the region to near-record levels.

Electricity supplies are adequate now, the system's operator said, but they likely will get tight as the heat persists. Voluntary conservation will help keep supply and demand in balance and maintain reliable service, it said.

The high temperature in Portland on Tuesday was 90 degrees, 11 degrees above normal for the date, said Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. It also was nearly 10 degrees warmer than Tuesday afternoon's temperatures in Orlando and Miami.

Kistner said Portland's record high for July 16 is 96 degrees, set in 1968.

On Monday, Portland had its warmest low temperature ever for July 15. The low of 70 was a degree warmer than the previous record of 69 degrees, set in 1998.

A spokesman for Central Maine Power Co. said the utility is not taking any special action and is following ISO New England's directions.

The grid operator is targeting its request for noon to 8 p.m., when demand for power is greatest. It suggests these measures, when they don't interfere with health or safety:

• Raise air conditioning temperatures to 74 to 78 degrees.

• Turn off air conditioners when leaving home for an extended period.

• Turn off unneeded lights, appliances and office equipment.

• Wait until early morning or late evening to do laundry or other chores that use a lot of electricity.

In a note to businesses that are heavy power users, ISO New England said it's not asking for formal conservation measures such as switching off machines or motors. But it said the forecasted electricity load from Tuesday through Thursday showed potential for exceeding capacity.

ISO New England projects that demand will grow through the week, peaking at 27,800 megawatts on Thursday. Demand on Tuesday exceeded 26,200 megawatts around 3 p.m. The forecast for Wednesday is 27,700.

New England's record for electricity use was set on Aug. 2, 2006, with a peak of 28,130 megawatts.

One megawatt of electricity can power about 1,000 homes in New England.

The demand comes from all of New England, so even if Maine cools down, demand will stay up if other states stay hot.

Residents who want new air conditioning units in Greater Portland may have to make a little extra effort. Many stores in the area have run out because of brisk weekend sales.

"It takes good hot weather like this to push people over the edge," said Tim Currier, manager of Maine Hardware in Portland. "This is the time when everyone starts calling because they're panicking and can't find (air conditioners) anywhere."

Employees at the store on St. John Street were busy Tuesday afternoon taking phone calls from people who wanted air conditioners and helping walk-in customers choose units.

One employee, Gary Smith, said most customers have similar stories: After trying to sleep in the heat night after night, they are fed up.

"A couple of hundred bucks is worth a good night's sleep," Smith said as he restocked a shelf with air conditioners. "Our storeroom was full a month ago, but we're getting down there now."

(Continued on page 2)

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