Despite the potential for record-breaking electricity use, power supplies should be sufficient to meet consumer demand in New England this summer, according to ISO New England Inc., the operator of the region's bulk power system and wholesale electricity markets.

"Power supplies from New England's fleet of generating plants coupled with robust demand-response programs should be sufficient to meet consumer demand for electricity this summer," said Stephen G. Whitley, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ISO New England. "If electricity use reaches record levels, recently added transmission facilities, demand-side resources, and conservation efforts will play a key role in helping to keep the lights on."

The ISO forecasts that, under normal weather conditions of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this summer's peak demand for electricity could reach approximately 28,000 MW. If New England experiences extreme weather conditions, such as an extended heat wave of approximately 95 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity, peak electricity use could set a new record of approximately 29,900 MW. One megawatt serves about 750 to 1,000 homes.

The all-time record for electricity use in New England was set on Aug. 2, 2006, when consumer demand peaked at 28,130 MW. Demand resources were vital to the power system's reliability that day, reducing demand on the power system by a maximum of 625 MW. Demand resources include demand response, where large customers reduce their electricity use; distributed generation, involving small-scale generation at the customer's site; and energy-efficiency programs.

For this summer, ISO New England estimates the region will have about 31,100 MW of generating capacity. The region operates with a margin of reserves to cover for unplanned contingencies like the loss of a large generator or major transmission line. The region is expected to have about 1,700 MW of demand resources this summer, close to double the 900 MW available last summer.

"If electricity use spikes during several days of extremely hot and humid weather, or if unexpected generation or transmission outages occur, system operators can immediately take a series of steps to help maintain reliability and keep electricity supply and demand in balance, including bringing in emergency power from our neighboring regions, calling on demand-side resources, or asking households and businesses to conserve," Whitley added.

To address the region's increasing demand for electricity, ISO New England, policymakers, and stakeholders developed and launched the Forward Capacity Market to ensure the region has adequate resources available to meet future demand. More than 1,800 MW of new resources were selected in the first Forward Capacity Auction held in February. Those new resources, which will be available in the 2010-2011 timeframe, include more than 600 MW of new generation and almost 1,200 MW of new demand resources.