Rolling Blackouts: Impact to District Customers
The week of February 15th was a week we will remember for years to come! Record cold temperatures and rolling blackouts throughout the Midwest and even Stanton County PPD. I want to start by saying thank you for everyone that reduced usage during the event. I also want to apologize to those who lost power during the rolling blackout that affected our District. I understand the challenges this event caused to many of our farmers, businesses, and homes across the District. I will be advocating on your behalf that something like this will not happen again.
To set the stage for these events that crippled the Midwest, I want to begin with the structure of our power grid. Stanton County PPD buys power from NPPD through a Nebraska Electric Generation & Transmission contract. NPPD is responsible for generating and transmitting electricity to our delivery points across the District. NPPD is a member of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). SPP is an energy market that allows participating utilities to collectively serve the load in the pool as economically as possible. In very general terms, this collective group can serve as a “pool” of resources that utilities can share with and draw from to provide the best service to the end use customer. A utility may look to “fill the gap” during a regular scheduled maintenance of plants and transmission lines, emergency generator events or storm events. The utility filling those needs will be financially compensated for doing so. This is a very complex market, but this is the general idea.
Electric demands were very high on the system due to the winter storms that covered a majority of the SPP footprint. The grid operators, (including operators right here in Nebraska) are tasked with balancing load and generation. If that balance is not maintained properly, the grid will be shut down to prevent catastrophic failure of generation facilities. This is an extremely critical task, and the balancing of load and generation is defined by physics, not politicians or public opinion.
Serving Stanton County and parts of Madison, Wayne, Cuming, and Colfax counties
There is no doubt we had to reduce load with rolling blackouts to keep the grid stable, however, what is debatable is how we got to this point.
How did we get in this position? I have worked in this industry for 25 years and I’ve only seen an event like this one other time in Nebraska, and that was due to inadequate transmission serving North Central Nebraska during the drought of 2012. This year’s events were a lack of generation available to meet the demand. The pool consists of more generation (installed capacity) than load, but the performance of the generation fleet was not adequate. Most of these shortcomings were due to lack of fuel sources in the generation fleet. Wind was not blowing, and some turbines were freezing up, natural gas supplies were tight due to pipeline congestions and supply lines were freezing up in the south. Some diesel generators had fuel supply issues and were hard to start due to the cold temperatures. Adequate fuels sources for the generation of electricity are critical to maintaining the reliability we expect. We must maintain a certain amount of generation that has a fuel source that can be stored, such as coal, nuclear, hydro and fuel oil. Wind, solar, and natural gas relies on a fuel that is not in our control. As we transition toward carbon-free resources, we need to be aware of these choices we are making. How fast we get there and what level of reliability we expect are discussion points that must be considered. If we continue down this path of renewable energy backed up by natural gas and continue eliminating baseload generation, rolling blackouts will become the new normal. We see similar events play out on the West Coast in the summer months.
Public Power in Nebraska stands for low cost and high reliability. The events of February 2021 are not acceptable and should never happen again. I hope this will provide industry leaders an opportunity to take a hard look at where we are headed and remedy this issue before this becomes the new normal! I will advocate on your behalf that we consider the level of reliability and how we will improve from experiencing the rolling blackouts in Nebraska and get back to the reliability we have grown accustomed to.
Chad Waldow; General Manager CEO