With forecasters forecasting a hotter-than-normal summer, power companies and regulators are warning that forced blackouts and higher costs might be on the way for certain Upper Midwest consumers in the coming months.
After the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and the region’s power grid operator warned that generation capacity could fall short of demand on the hottest days this summer, power companies large and small across Minnesota say they are prepared for potential challenges this summer, including the possibility of outages. The strain will be exacerbated by above-normal temperatures in the Upper Midwest, as well as a historic drought.
“I’d rather be prepared and not need it than not be prepared and need it,” said Vernell Roberts of Detroit Lakes Public Utilities, which serves up to 17,000 customers during the summer. “We’re not attempting to sound an alarm or anything like that.” However, we do want clients to be aware.”
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, is a regional power grid operator that stretches from Manitoba, Canada, to Louisiana, and includes electric companies in Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas. Energy producers and consumers across the system collaborate to maintain a steady supply and the best possible rates for the 42 million people they serve.
Julie Pierce, vice president of strategy and planning for Minnesota Power, a 145,000-customer utility in northeastern Minnesota, compares MISO to a regional air traffic controller, and local companies have been ready to help in any way they can if the system is put under significant stress. When millions of people turn on their air conditioners this summer to beat the heat, the utilities aim to work together to generate more power and reduce use where they can.
The heat isn’t the only factor posing a problem. According to MISO’s summer estimate, 124 gigawatts of load, or power consumption, might be expected, with 119 gigawatts of regularly available energy available for generation. MISO spokesperson Brandon Morris said the operator will likely have to depend more on emergency measures to avert blackouts or grid breakdown. MISO has already issued capacity advisories and hot weather notifications to utilities throughout the system this week.
“We’ve been witnessing this trend for a few years,” Morris said in a statement, “but this year’s summer assessment and capacity auction reflect the possibility for the tightest circumstances we’ve seen.” “The system’s overall stability and dependability will not be jeopardized, as MISO will continue to take all steps necessary to avoid uncontrolled, cascading outages.”
Before resorting to the extreme option of blackouts, Pierce said, providers may take a number of actions, including allowing significant industrial users to shut down operations to avoid the higher costs that come with increased power consumption. According to Roberts, his utility has been locating industrial clients in Detroit Lakes who are interested in doing the same.
The system has faced interruptions as electricity suppliers throughout MISO’s area retire gas and nuclear power units and replace them with increasingly renewable energy sources like wind and solar, according to industry experts. The retirement of older facilities, according to energy investment research firm BTU Analytics, contributed to MISO’s footprint shortage.
More renewable alternatives, on the other hand, are on the way. According to Pierce, increasing dependability also requires bettering and extending transmission networks and power storage.
“The fundamental truth is that you need additional infrastructure to accommodate the renewables that are being added to the grid.” And if you don’t have it, you’re going to have a lot of swings,” Pierce added. “It’s not due of renewable energy.” This is due to the current energy shift taking place in the United States.”