New England’s Summer 2002 May Give Demand Response a Chance to Shine

Steven Brown, Senior Associate Editor

A year ago in this space, in the March 2001 “From the Editor” column, we discussed the renewed interest in demand side management (DSM) at the then recently concluded 2001 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition (www.distributech.com). The buzz back then was that load management programs could serve as at least a stopgap solution for the supply and demand imbalance that had been troubling the West Coast.

Now, it’s a year later, and we’ve just completed DistribuTECH 2002 in Miami Beach, Fla. Once again, load management and DSM-type programs figured prominently in discussions around the exhibit hall and in the conference sessions. This year, an entire conference track at DistribuTECH was devoted to what has become known as “demand response.”

But the driver for demand response has changed. Shortfalls in West Coast generating capacity no longer dominate the headlines as they did a year or two ago. So, if it’s not lack of generation, what is it that’s driving the demand response discussion this year?

One needs only to move a step farther down the electric power supply chain to find the answer. This year, it’s the troubled North American transmission system that has people talking about the potential benefits of demand response. And the focus this summer may well shift from the West Coast to the northeastern United States.

In a March 6 article published in the Connecticut Post, Stephen Whitley, senior vice president and CEO of ISO New England, told reporters that the aging transmission system in the Fairfield County, Conn., area would soon not be able to keep up with peak demand. Whitley told the Post that the problem in southwestern Connecticut is “severe,” and as a result the area could be facing blackouts this summer.

Certainly, the proposal by Northeast Utilities to build new 345-kV lines in the area would help alleviate the problem in Connecticut, but, as is typical, this build-out is facing opposition from area residents who don’t want a bunch of gaudy towers and thick power lines cluttering their view of the countryside. (No doubt, these same residents are perfectly happy working by candlelight and sweating out a hot summer afternoon without air conditioning.) And the problem isn’t confined to Connecticut. In a conference call last summer, Whitley warned of bottlenecks in other parts of New England, making it increasingly difficult to transport power from north to south.

With the probability next to nil that Connecticut and other New England states will be seeing an entirely healthy new transmission system any time soon, demand response is again the proposed Band-Aid. The Connecticut Post reported that the “ISO will ask customers to conserve electricity during peak times on hot days” and “is planning to pay industrial and commercial users to shut down when the system is stretched to the limit.” There you have it: Demand response in action. If those efforts don’t alleviate the problem, the area could face “California-style” rolling blackouts.

The situation facing Connecticut this summer is one of many that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that investment in the nation’s T&D system is long overdue and absolutely necessary. But until the investment and subsequent system improvements happen, we’ll continue to look to conservation and demand response programs as the medicine for our ailing power systems.

Keep an eye on New England this summer. If Whitley’s warnings ring true, the region could serve as a proving ground for demand response.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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