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Winter Reliability: Serving your Energy Needs in Western Iowa

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

In November, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released a report outlining its 2022/2023 Winter Reliability Assessment.

In the report, NERC raised concerns regarding several regional transmission organizations (RTOs), their challenges related to electric generation, and the capacity to meet electric demand during the winter months.

The topic of reliable and affordable power is a newsworthy one. When temperatures drop, the available power supply becomes a prominent news story. While local and regional media share a bleak outlook, it is essential to know the facts about reliability close to home.

NERC’s Winter Reliability Assessment

NERC’s Annual Winter Reliability Assessment looks at several factors when evaluating the generation resource and transmission system adequacy needed to meet consumer demand. The assessment considers weather, fuel risks, and railroad transportation uncertainty. The evaluation establishes a risk level for the supply and demand for power within individual regional transmission systems throughout North America.

NERC’s assessment reports “winter weather conditions that exceed projections could expose power system generation and fuel delivery infrastructure vulnerabilities.”

Many electric utilities across the country are members of one of nine regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs), also referred to as power pools. These entities are federally regulated by FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and work on a regional scale to coordinate, control, and monitor supply and demand on the electric grid. RTOs do not own the power grid, but they work as “air-traffic controllers” of the grid to ensure reliable power supplies, adequate transmission infrastructure, and “day-ahead” electric market coordination of wholesale electricity prices on behalf of their members.

Many regional systems, including MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator), which serves some electric cooperatives and utilities in Iowa, have been identified at a marginal or higher risk for power capacity shortages under extreme conditions. MISO was declared high risk due to the retirement of 4.2 gigawatts (GW) of coal and nuclear plants since last winter, along with the potential impact of extreme cold weather that could compromise generation and fuel sources.

Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the regional transmission organization (RTO) that serves western and some central Iowa cooperatives, has been identified as a “lower risk” thanks to the addition of 3.7 GW of added generation capacity, including natural gas and wind generation, since 2021.

What does this mean for Harrison County REC?

While electric cooperative members in western Iowa hear stories of power supply shortages, it is essential to know that our cooperative’s power supply is sufficient under normal conditions. Harrison County REC’s power providers, NIPCO, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), are well-positioned to meet this winter’s peak demand.

In fact, SPP projects that there is enough generation capacity to satisfy consumer demand for power across its entire 14-state footprint, which includes western Iowa. However, that doesn’t eliminate the risk of an isolated energy emergency alert (EEA) that could be prompted by a widespread, prolonged weather event, unplanned outages at generation facilities, or damage to the existing transmission system.

December’s Winter Storm Elliott tested the limits of power grids across the US as it produced double-digit sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and precipitation producing blizzard warnings and power outages impacting millions of people. Western Iowa felt the impact of Winter Storm Elliott as these conditions hung over the region for several days, including those leading up to the Christmas holiday. With families gathering together to celebrate, water heating, appliances used for holiday baking and keeping up with laundry, coupled with record levels of home heating, pushed electric consumption in the NIPCO service territory to all-time highs.

Meeting the power demands of cooperative member-consumers in western Iowa during Elliott’s wrath supports the data reported in NERC’s winter reliability assessment. NIPCO set a new all-time record peak of 269.36 MW (megawatts) at 5:30 pm on December 22, 2022. This value represents a 12.97 MW (5%) increase from the previous peak, recorded on February 16, 2021, of 256.39 MW during Winter Storm Uri.

What is Harrison County REC doing?

We continue to work with policymakers and regulators on a state and federal level for a sensible “all-of-the-above” generation approach.

The ongoing energy transition must recognize the need for time and technology development while including all available energy sources to maintain reliability and affordability. A resilient and reliable electric grid that keeps the lights on is paramount to what we do and serves as the cornerstone of our rural economy.

Electric cooperative families and businesses rightfully expect the lights to stay on at a price they can afford. To maintain the reliability of your power supply, we must adopt an “all-of-the-above” strategy that includes renewable energy such as wind and solar as well as dependable resources we have come to rely on like coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydropower. This diverse energy mix is essential to meeting reliability expectations day in and day out.

While we support and encourage the development and use of renewable energy, the intermittent nature of renewables means there may be times when there simply isn’t enough of it to keep the lights on all the time. Its place is to supplement a reliable and affordable baseload generation mix. That’s why we must continue to recognize the value of and operate baseload generation plants now and into the future.

We continue to work with our power providers and regional transmission organization to refine communication processes and emergency operations procedures surrounding EEA (Energy Emergency Alert) events impacting our service area, should they arise in the future.

Our mission remains the same. We are here to provide you with safe, reliable, and affordable electricity that is also environmentally responsible. We do not anticipate an energy shortfall in the coming months but be assured that, as a member-owned electric cooperative, we will monitor and communicate energy supply updates as they arise.

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