The February winter storm brought unprecedented challenges for utilities and power plants across the central United States. The combination of extremely cold temperatures and lack of generating capacity caused significant stress on the electric grid and led the Southwest Power Pool to issue mandatory power reductions across their territory which stretches from North Dakota to north Texas.
Most of the state of Texas is on its own separate electric grid. So a lot of the longer outages you may have heard or read about were confined to that state. In addition to the increased demand for electricity due to the cold temperatures, they had significant issues with their natural gas distribution network literally freezing up. That meant their power plants that are fueled by natural gas were either unable to run or ran at a significantly decreased capacity. They were not able to generate enough electricity to meet the demand so they had to do rolling blackouts, but they ended up having many people off for several days.
The issues in Texas were more extreme than in the rest of the country but the members of the Southwest Power Pool faced similar issues. The SPP coordinates the generation and transmission systems across parts of fourteen states but it mostly covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and a good part of Iowa. They monitor resources and demand for electricity and coordinate what power needs to be produced and where it needs to go. They are trying to get the most value out of everyone’s shared resources and prevent the system from being overwhelmed, risking the entire grid collapsing. When the demand got too high that it was jeopardizing the integrity of the grid, they required some power reductions so that the problem could be contained and managed before it became catastrophic.
I have heard many people question if it is worth being a member of SPP if they can require rolling blackouts. Most of the industry believes that the answer is definitely yes. This is the first time the SPP had to call for rolling blackouts in their 80-year history. The rest of the time they are helping different utilities coordinate and share resources so that we can help each other be prepared for smaller emergencies and share costs that save everyone money the vast majority of the time. Unfortunately – like many things – they only make the news when there is a disaster or near disaster.
*Midwest Electric is an equal opportunity provider and employer.*