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Could an electrical grid failure happen in Ohio?

Could an electrical grid failure happen in Ohio?
Posted at 9:46 PM, Feb 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-20 23:18:51-05

Freezing cold weather has been wreaking havoc in Texas. Cold temperatures crippled their electrical grid, leaving millions of people without power for multiple days and causing pipes to freeze and burst, flooding homes.

So the question is, are Ohioans protected from a similar crisis happening here?

Grant Goodrich, the executive director of the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University, said its unlikely.

He said, in Texas, most people rely on electricity to heat their homes and businesses.

“As the temperatures plunged, most Texans turned up the heat to keep their homes, businesses and buildings warm. And it really pushed unprecedented demand onto the grid in Texas,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich said Texas’s electrical grid is separated from two main grids that serve the rest of the country, so they couldn’t tap into other states' power sources to keep up with the surge.

“It does sound from what we're hearing from Texas that there were maintenance issues. Cold is typically not a problem, but cold combined with ice makes repairs and maintenance difficult,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich said there are several reasons why a widespread outage like the one in Texas is unlikely to happen in Ohio.

First, Goodrich said most Ohioans use natural gas to heat their homes.

“If a major distribution center was to fail, that would probably be the only scenario where we would see something like this,” Goodrich said.

Also, peak electricity usage usually comes in the summer when people are running their air conditioners and there’s a way to manage that so the grid isn’t overloaded.

“We have something called demand response where our regional grid will ask major users to reduce their energy consumption during peak hours so that they can balance the amount of power generation that's coming in with the amount of load that's on the electrical grid,” Goodrich said. “And usually you can get large companies and large businesses, large buildings to cooperate and to help out with that.”

Ohio is also on the Eastern Interconnection electrical grid, one of the two major national power grids, so if the state lost power locally, companies could get electricity from outside of the state.

And if that fails, there are two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio that could provide power.

“Nuclear has tended to be very reliable throughout its lifetime, regardless of the weather and the conditions,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich said since we’re used to cold winters in Ohio, electricity providers typically do regular maintenance to make sure their systems are in working order before cold weather comes along.

“The utilities tend to be pretty tight-lipped about their maintenance cycle and about the age of their equipment,” Goodrich said.

But the age of those systems could be a concern and, if not addressed soon, could put Northeast Ohio at risk.

The American Society Civil Engineers gave Northeast Ohio a D grade for its energy infrastructure on the region’s 2019 infrastructure report card. D means poor and at risk.

“Obviously all of us here in Cleveland are well familiar with the fact that we do have aging infrastructure in our community,” Goodrich said. “I'm sure that all the utilities probably have a shopping list of things that they'd like to be able to invest major resources into replacements or upgrades.”

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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