July 16, 2013

Heat drives up power use

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Gillian Graham ggraham@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

Jennifer Kierstead sits next to her brand new energy efficient air conditioner that is replacing the older air conditioner in her downtown Waterville office on Tuesday. As temperatures rise, Central Maine Power is asking customers to limit their power usage.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Nick Williams gives his daughter, Kiera, 7, a push on a rope swing Sunday while swimming in temperatures above 90 degrees in Augusta. The heat wave is expected to persist for the rest of the week. Williams other daughter, Lexi Merrill, 12, also took the plunge from the rope.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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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.

The high in Augusta and Waterville Tuesday was 89, while it was 90 in Farmington and 91 in Skowhegan.

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 from noon to 8 p.m., when demand for power is greatest.

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 forecast 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 today 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 an 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."

As she bought an air conditioner at Maine Hardware, the only thought on Katie Capron's mind was relief. The Portland resident said she was "finally breaking down after years and years and years" of using only fans to stay cool.

"It's already been so hot this year and I don't see that trend changing, so I'm biting the bullet," she said.

Mark Flowers of Scarborough spent three hours searching for a new air conditioner after his unit at home died. He said he went to every conceivable store looking for one before calling his wife to tell her they would have to go the night without air conditioning. She told him to keep looking and sent him to Maine Hardware, where he bought the last 6,000-BTU window unit for about $230.

(Continued on page 2)

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