The climate crisis catches utilities off guard

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Experts called Con Ed’s Climate are studying the gold standard. But relatively few utilities have undertaken a similar exercise.

“A lot of utilities say they do vulnerability planning, but when you dig into the details, they always base their analyzes on historical weather conditions,” said Romany Webb, senior researcher at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. who studied the climate risks facing public services. “Either they only look at a few climate impacts while ignoring the others, or they focus on a few power plants and substations but don’t consider the risk to their systems as a whole.”

Utilities say they take these concerns seriously.

“Our industry is constantly striving to adapt to new and evolving threats to the energy grid,” said Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities owned to investors.

Even if they do everything right, power companies can still find themselves beset by the effects of climate change unfolding faster than expected.

Seattle City Light, a utility that serves 900,000 residents, conducted a detailed climate risk assessment in 2015 after realizing that its hydroelectric facilities were vulnerable to changes in rainfall patterns brought on by climate change. Utility is often cited as a model for forward thinking in this regard.

But last month, when a record-breaking heat wave that shocked even climatologists hit the Pacific Northwest, the utility faced new challenges. As temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, some of its underground equipment suffered breakdowns, affecting around 1,700 customers. The utility had to run their repair crews more frequently due to the dangerous heat, slowing response times.

“The biggest challenge for us,” said Ronda Strauch, climate change research and adaptation advisor at Seattle City Light, “is the pace of climate change versus the rate at which we can plan and respond to the current situation.” .