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Total reliance on electric heat is a dangerous game during Northeast winters

31 October 2022

The regional power grids serving New England and New York are both at critical risk of maxing out as the Northeast prepares for a potentially brutal winter and the prospect of rolling blackouts or storm-related outages.

Natural gas supplies are at near record lows and demand on the power grids is being driven higher by increased electrical vehicle use and a push to exclusively use electricity for heating homes. That’s bad policy in one of the coldest regions for winter in all of the U.S., and it will contribute to making the grids less reliable in the event of severe cold weather conditions.

We’ve already been warned by grid operators that winter power outages and other weather-related disruptions could devastate millions of residents in the Northeast, as seen not long ago in Texas. Over-reliance on electric heat is a dangerous risk when weather events threaten to thrust households and families into the cold for days or even weeks.

This problem is not going away. In fact it’s only getting worse. Energy security is more important than ever as global events have dramatically impacted supplies and driven costs to record levels.

Imported liquefied natural gas is crucial for the Northeast to cover supply gaps during the winter months. Yet disruption in pipelines, closing of pipelines, the war in Ukraine and Russia’s disruption of supplies through its pipeline are already a threat to our energy supplies. A tough winter could mean real problems as global demand for natural gas reduces the availability of supplies for gas-powered electric plants.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported

“The region’s power-grid operator, ISO New England Inc., has warned that an extremely cold winter could strain the reliability of the grid and potentially result in the need for rolling blackouts to keep electricity supply and demand in balance. The warning comes as executives and analysts predict power producers could have to pay as much as several times more than last year for gas deliveries if severe weather creates urgent need for spot-market purchases.”

“Demand is growing not just regionally and nationally for natural gas, but globally as well. And that global competition is having a direct impact on the cost and availability of fuel to heat homes in New England and New York,” said Joel Etter, President of the Northeast Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (NEHPBA). “The timing could not be worse for any initiative to purposely reduce gas supplies and artificially impact demand by harming energy diversity with building regulations and other measures.”

NEHPBA supports the recent request by New England to the U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm that domestic LNG imports be allowed to the region. We also agree that more coordination is needed with the federal government to ensure energy reliability and diversity.

Expanding our national energy portfolio and supply resources to include more renewable sources is crucial, and NEHPBA supports that as New England, New York and the entire U.S. work to achieve important climate goals. But that is not a transition that can be made abruptly without serious risk to households and families.

“If you are heating your home exclusively with electricity in the Northeast, your bills this winter will be the highest they’ve been in years,” said NEHPBA Executive Director Karen Arpino. “The idea that you must also prepare for a potentially dangerous situation with no heat for several days because the power grid can’t keep up is troubling.”

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