A regional power generation shortfall may lead to controlled outages this summer.
Marshal Albright, Cass County Electric Cooperative president & CEO
This summer, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) reported that adequate generation resources might not be available during extreme high-demand periods because of hot weather in the northern regions from Manitoba through North Dakota and Minnesota to Iowa.
Cass County Electric purchases electricity from Minnkota Power Cooperative. Cass is one of eleven distribution cooperatives with an ownership stake in Minnkota Power. Historically, the power grid, managed by MISO, had enough excess capacity to allow for planned and unplanned generation outages. Minnkota does not anticipate generation shortfalls, but unplanned power plant outages, low wind output, transmission congestion, hot weather, and limited excess capacity in MISO could trigger a shortfall.
In 2022, MISO will have 3.2 gigawatts less power capacity than it had in the summer of 2021. This is due mainly to retiring coal plants, according to a report published by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). The region is also expected to experience a slight uptick in demand, putting it at a higher risk than other regions of controlled outages this summer if temperatures spike or generators unexpectedly trip offline.
Coal plant retirements and a lack of reliable replacement power create a dangerous gap between supply and demand in the MISO system as temperatures rise this summer. Low water levels may also impact hydropower, and lack of cooling water could limit operations for certain power plants.
This summer’s anticipated tight grid conditions are just the tip of the iceberg as the hot weather season approaches. As we look into the future, we will likely see more coal plant retirements, less baseload supply, and more intermittent power sources. The transition away from traditional baseload power plants will potentially lead to dangerous and costly controlled outages this summer and in future years due to hot and cold weather events.
In Texas, this summer’s looming threat has already begun to materialize. The region saw a combination of record-breaking heat, record-breaking demand, low wind generation, and six thermal generators’ abrupt failure at once. Earlier this month, the state’s grid operator was forced to call on customers to conserve power.
The state’s reliability issues highlight a central dilemma in Texas and other parts of the country: ensuring there are enough resources to generate power only solves half the problem. Those power plants must perform reliably. In Texas, it’s not the megawatts on paper that matter; it’s the capacity not showing up that is the problem. Power plants “not showing up” was a massive part of the energy crisis in Texas in February 2021 when Winter Storm Uri killed an estimated 246 people. The state’s isolated grid was forced to implement controlled outages for weeks.
Some Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulators and grid operators argue for slowing the transition to cleaner resources to maintain the reliability of the power system. According to Commissioner James Danly, “transmission reform is not the silver bullet some make it out to be. In the minds of some, [the idea] that as long as we get the transmission issue correct, everything will eventually solve itself.”
I can assure you that Minnkota Power will do what they can to ensure you have power. If MISO calls on Minnkota to reduce electricity load, the plan will be to initiate demand response before implementing intermittent controlled outages to keep the grid operational.
This editorial aims to inform our members of a critical regional power supply situation we have not seen in my 35 years at Cass County Electric