Table: Power Problems
With demand rising faster than supply, producers are stretched thin. California could see rolling blackouts again this summer. Metro New York could get hit, too. Lots of new power plants are in the works, but there aren't enough transmission lines.
The combination of high crude prices, strong demand, and too few refineries has sent prices soaring. The national average retail price for regular-octane gasoline hit a record $1.63 in April. Refiners, fearful that big profits won't last, have been slow to add capacity.
Last winter, spot wholesale prices quadrupled. Though now down from that peak, prices are still double last year's. With more gas-fired power plants coming on line and inventories low, prices could spike again next winter.
Dirty but dependable, coal usage has risen as natural gas has gotten more expensive. Coal produces 54% of U.S. electricity. Prices are up as much as 130% from last year. Some utilities are lobbying for easier air-pollution rules so they can burn more coal.