SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Utility and government leaders in the Upper Midwest are asking people to conserve electricity as frigid weather strangles the region's power grid, Monday, Feb. 15.
The electrical grid operator for 14 central U.S. states, including much of North and South Dakota, instituted its most serious level of alert for the first time in its history on Monday morning.
Southwest Power Pool officials said electrical demand was exceeding generation, power surpluses had dropped below critical reserve levels, and it must force utilities to institute rolling outages or face more widespread, uncontrolled blackouts.
The organization's leaders said later Monday they had gotten the needed power to cover the immediate power shortfall, but the situation remained dire and more rotating outages could be necessary. They called on utilities to encourage customers to reduce their power consumption to ease strain on the grid.
"We could very well be in this same situation again. In fact, I’d say we could be in and out of this situation between now and Thursday,” said Lanny Nickel, SPP's executive vice president and COO on a Monday media call. "Ultimately it depends on whether we have enough supply to meet demand, and when we don’t we have to take action.”
Recent weather has set record low temperatures in many states and brought unusually cold weather and precipitation to Oklahoma and Texas.
The cold weather has driven a double dagger into the electrical grid, hiking demand from cold customers and forcing SPP to deal with a shortage of power due to limited supplies of natural gas and difficulties in transferring energy from neighboring grids, Nickel said.
Not a concern was Texas' prodigious supply of wind power, which helpfully generated its forecasted amount of energy on Monday, Nickel said.
It's not clear the outages would immediately include utilities with customers in the Dakotas, but it's unlikely a multi-day power shortfall would spare utilities in the states. If necessary, outages would be shifted across regions several hours at a time, a SPP official said Monday.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum echoed the call for energy conservation in a Monday afternoon statement, thanking state residents for doing their part, and taking the opportunity to promote, among other sources, coal-fueled electrical generation.
“This situation, brought about by extreme cold stretching south all the way to Texas, underscores the need for an all-of-the-above energy approach with reliable coal power as a critical piece of the baseload mix," he said.
A spokesperson for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a North Dakota-based utility provider on the SPP grid, said in an email that some utility companies in the upper Great Plains have taken protocols to reduce electricity consumption and mitigate strain on southern regions of the grid.
"Basin Electric's generation and transmission systems remain viable and we will continue to do what we can to help relieve stress on the overall Southwest Power Pool network," the spokesperson wrote.
Xcel Energy told Forum News Service it's part of a neighboring grid, not SPP, in the Dakotas.
The cold weather is highlighting both the strength and weakness of the nation's regional power grid system.
Southwest Power Pool handles an interconnected, interstate electrical grid between power stations and dozens of utilities that provide electricity to millions of customers.
When it comes to electrical power, nobody is on an island. The power grid — with organizations like SPP at the switches — was made to shift power to where it's needed, handling surges and slowdowns of supply and demand across multiple states, ensuring electricity keeps flowing down power lines.
But the regional nature of the grid also means a supply or demand issue in one part of the grid could affect utilities and power customers across the grid, sometimes many states away.
Forum News Service reporter Adam Willis contributed to this article.