The spring of 2019 opened with a deep chill across Cascadia. An Arctic air mass poured past the 49th parallel, simultaneously jacking up energy consumption and straining energy supplies in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. It conjured a dangerously “perfect” storm for the region’s electricity grid.

When temperatures began to plummet on March 1, 2019, Cascadia’s hydropower reservoirs sat at record low levels following weak fall rains and an exceptionally cold winter. Mechanical trouble had halved power output from the Centralia, Washington, coal-fired power plant — the largest generator between Seattle and Portland. Furthermore, the low-pressure weather system was crimping generation from Cascadia’s wind farms. And maintenance work on lines in Los Angeles limited the amount of power that could flow north from generators in the Southwest.

Utilities appealed to citizens to conserve energy. Industries cut back as power prices spiked. And the grid held.

Utility officials call it a near miss and a sign of a new normal. They note that over the past 12 months, extreme weather and technical glitches have resulted in rolling blackouts in California and Texas. “We really had a very close call,” says Scott Bolton, senior vice president for transmission development at Portland-based PacifiCorp.

A postmortem of Cascadia’s 2019 deep chill concurred, warning that climate change and the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy are straining the grid — and Cascadia must be prepared.

“Future events could have direct impacts to the reliability of the bulk power system,” concluded an assessment by Western Electricity Coordinating Council, the utility consortium that oversees reliability for the interconnected transmission network west of the Rockies.

Read the full article about new energy distributions by Peter Fairley at Grist.