If you thought that perhaps things had changed and utilities companies had made improvements since last year’s cold snap resulted in rolling blackouts on Christmas Eve in North Carolina, well, you would be wrong.
Despite concern from officials last winter that such an event could happen again, utility companies here have not taken any steps to ensure it won’t.
“What we’re concerned about is extreme cold, demand for electricity goes up. Demand for natural gas for heating homes goes up. And there’s not enough gas to run the power plants that are fueled by that.”
According to Matheson, any serious cold snap will put the power grid at risk of failing because the grid is impacted most by the temperature outside.
“Why it’s getting a little more risky every year is, we’re using more and more electricity. Demand is growing,” Matheson said, adding, “Think of all the electrical devices used. Now we plug into everything.”
According to Matheson, the grid’s capabilities have not changed since last year’s unusually frigid cold snap left North Carolinians freezing and in the dark at Christmas.
“What’s making it just a little bit worse, as demand has grown from last winter, this winter, the projected amount of electricity we would use, has gone up,” he said. “The risk is just as great as last year, if not a little more. And it’s going to take some time for the utility industry to be able to invest in new power plants to help make this go.”
Matheson said he believes there should be a public policy to speed up the permitting process for new infrastructure projects because that’s what it will take to get “more electric generating capacity, more electric transmission lines, [and] more gas pipelines.”
Unfortunately, Matheson doesn’t seem to be a huge proponent of renewable energy as he said that it can be a contributing source but downplayed its effectiveness.
“There’s no question that [renewable energy] has a value, but it has a limitation because the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day, and the wind doesn’t blow 24 hours a day.”
He went on to add that, “as part of a portfolio, renewable energy can be a contributor. But what you really need to make sure you have is enough, what I call, ‘always available generation.’ And the electric side, which may be nuclear or coal or natural gas, that’s what it’s going to take.”
Probably the most important message to take from Matheson is that utilities haven’t made improvements since last year’s blackouts and the chances of it happening again this winter are even higher than they were last year.
This might be a good time to make sure you have warm clothes and know how to properly use a generator if you own one or plan to buy one.