East Coast Power Woes?

In this courtroom drawing, Paris Hilton faces the judge at the Metropolitan Courthouse June 8, 2007, in Los Angeles. After spending three days in jail for a probation violation, Hilton was released to home confinement last week because of an undisclosed medical condition. The next day an outraged judge ordered her back behind bars.
GETTY IMAGES/Mona Shaefer Edwards
In the shadow of the Empire State Building, workers are racing against the clock, trying to head off a power meltdown.

Because of high demand, New York City is the most likely candidate for a power crunch. That's why the state is building 11 small generators that will turn on during peak hours.

"If we don't meet that capacity, we can face California-style brownouts and rolling blackouts in New York City," warned Luis Rodriguez of the New York Power Authority.

In a prolonged heat wave, these mini plants are expected to meet the city's immediate demand for power. But the long-term solution, officials say, is bigger plants.

"It's absolutely crucial that New York approve a fair amount of generation this year so that we won't have a problem 2 to 3 years from now," said New York Independent System Operator's William Museler.

But experts say, to avoid problems this summer, there must be no major equipment failures and no region-wide extended heat wave. Even in a best case scenario, analysts expect higher electric rates.

Click here for state by state electricity prices.

Last summer, customers in this 24-hour city paid, on average, 40 percent more for electricity than the previous year. To keep the lights on and costs down, experts say the only solution is to find new ways to manage energy.

Crane and Company, in Dalton, Mass., is on the cutting edge. The 200-year-old firm makes stationery and the paper used for U.S. currency.

"This is where we actually see our electric bill being built, minute by minute," said Stephen Sears.

With monitoring software, plant managers schedule production to take advantage of off-peak rates — delaying some jobs until the weekend when the cost of power is low.

At Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, N.Y., this back-up diesel generator may ease the pain of expected price spikes. If there's a power alert in the area, the generator will be turned on, reducing the drain on the main grid and reducing the hospital's utility bill.

"Our best bet, hedge against energy prices is through conservation and that's what we try to do," said facilities manager James Cullen.

This summer, the mix of conservation, new plants and a little luck may just be enough keep the East Coast from going dark.

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