Electric heat moves peak power to January

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND - An increase in peak power could mean higher rates for everyone.An increase in peak power could mean higher rates for everyone.

Prince Edward Islanders used the most electricity on a day in January, not December, for the first time this winter, and growth in the use of electric heating is being pointed to as the reason.

The recent spike happened when wind chills of -30C sucked the heat from Island homes. Electricity use peaked at 225 MW, compared to a peak in December 2010 of 206 MW.

Anything above 200 MW exceeds the capacity of the Island's power cables to the mainland, and electricity must be generated on the Island. That can be far more expensive than energy purchased from NB Power.

John te Raa, a former manager of the energy from waste plant and a frequent intervenor at Maritime Electric rate hearings, said all Maritime Electric ratepayers should be concerned. Not only is that Island-generated electricity more expensive, if peak electricity use keeps growing, Maritime Electric will have to build more power plants.

"It means that Maritime Electric has to buy more capacity or install another gas turbine like they did a few years ago," said te Raa.

"It is a peak that occurs for a very few hours every year and it's a massive investment to meet that peak."

Peak capacity for the Island is currently 310 MW, not counting wind power. While recent strong winds contributed to heat loss in buildings, they also saved the utility money, because it was able to use wind power to help meet the demand.

If the wind hadn't been blowing the utility said it would have cost upwards of $100,000 for just a couple of hours of electricity.

Information from IRAC and Maritime Electric shows the number of Island homes that heat with electricity has quadrupled in the last decade.


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