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(Bloomberg) — Oil has overtaken natural gas as the leading fuel for New England power plants, a significant switch that signals how the grid is desperately trying to keep the lights on amid a massive winter storm.

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The six-state grid relies on oil for at least a third of its power generation and 40% on Saturday, ISO New England data show. In the afternoon, natural gas was supplied by 15%.

The region typically only uses oil to meet demand during the hottest and coldest days of the year as backup. During peak evening hours, New England issued a series of grid alerts warning of possible power shortages and asking market members to voluntarily conserve electricity.

The operator later said he was trying to buy emergency supplies from market participants or neighboring areas. The situation is so tight that prices jumped to more than $2,000 per megawatt hour on Saturday evening. This time last week spot capacity was in the $30 range.

While New England is always likely to run on tight supplies this winter, the fact that oil has overtaken gas, nuclear and hydro, which are typically the cheapest and largest sources of energy on the grid, indicates the level of tightness likely to be expected later in the season. during.

Dirty oil

The storm is already fueling the energy transition debate. how to ensure that there are enough power plants on the Internet to meet heating needs in extreme conditions. And when an operator turns to dirty fossil fuels like oil to avoid disruptions, it adds another level of tension to the debate.

Gas was king on the 13-state eastern U.S. grid operated by PJM Interconnection, but supply constraints also contributed to an unexpectedly high number of outages that prompted warnings of rolling blackouts.

Fossil fuels have gained share in other networks. After the wind died down in Texas on Friday, gas accounted for 73% of that night’s electricity generation, with coal making up the rest. Coal also acquired a stake in the US Central Grid, operated by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator.

– With assistance from Brian Eckhouse.

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