Even the most foolhardy of gamblers would be reluctant to bet on the reliability of the North American power network during the next few months of high summer.

A hot spell in the Southwestern US is taxing generators to the limits and the Californian ISO is struggling in the face of power alerts. The situation has become so strained that the ISO has voted to approve a plan by Pacific Gas & Electric to purchase a barge-mounted power plant, located in the San Francisco Bay area, scene of a recent power outage.

The oil-fired unit would be used to supplement the grid during periods peak demand and is expected to cost in the region of $11.3 million. Operations are expected to begin by August this year and the facility will supply 95 – 100 MWe of additional capacity, hopefully enough to prevent repeat outages that have cost companies in Silicon Valley millions of dollars in lost revenues.

Secretary of energy, Bill Richardson, has offered repeated warnings that reliability may be affected and announced specific concerns over California and the Pacific Northwest during peak periods.

Power from the Pacific Northwest has often been imported into California during peak periods, but the extensive heatwave has left the Bonneville Power Administration short of power. Similar imports from Arizona and Nevada have also been restricted due to the intense heat.