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Summer Reliability Outlook in Western Iowa

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

In the late spring of 2022, there was a lot of media coverage regarding the Summer Reliability Assessment published by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

In the report, NERC raised concerns regarding several regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and their challenges related to electric generation and transmission this summer.

NERC placed Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) in a "high risk" category for electric generation/capacity shortfalls during the summer. NIPCO's RTO, Southwest Power Pool (SPP), was identified as an "elevated risk."

NERC outlined the following several factors contributing to these risk levels:

  • Storm damage to a key transmission line.

  • Above-average temperatures and drought contributing to high demand and lower than average output from hydro generators.

  • Supply chain challenges leading to difficulty securing fuels and other key resources.

  • Cybersecurity threats.

In response, NIPCO collaborated with its member cooperatives to shape communications that reassured western Iowa consumer-members that their energy supply was secure.

SPP stated that they projected enough generation to meet summer peak demand. However, that wouldn't eliminate the risk of an isolated energy emergency advisory or alert (EEA) that could be prompted by a weather event, as was encountered in February 2021. During that time, Winter Storm Uri produced prolonged arctic cold that negatively impacted generation resources in the SPP footprint. This led to SPP mandating load curtailment within NIPCO's service territory, which was met through the operation of NIPCO's load management system.

Because the electric grid comprises of thousands of generating stations and millions of miles of interconnected lines, an unplanned power plant outage or weather-related damage to transmission lines within the SPP footprint could negatively impact SPP's projections. NIPCO and its power providers, Basin Electric Power Cooperative and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), are well-positioned to meet summer's peak demand.

In fact, SPP and its members maintained reliability and met energy demand through two of the year's hottest days. To underscore SPP's reliability outlook, SPP reported a new peak load occurring on July 14 at 4:55 p.m. and topped out at 51,512 megawatts (MW). This new record peak surpassed SPP's previous record-setting all-time peak of 51,377 MW set on July 11, 2022.

Bruce Rew, SPP senior vice president, says, "Preventing service interruptions has become a more and more complex challenge."

Preparing, responding, and communicating through conditions that impact energy reliability can only be done through the cooperative principle of "Cooperation Among Cooperatives".

Rew went on to explain, "We're proud of the job we do coordinating among our member utilities to keep the lights on through careful reliability coordination, thoughtful and thorough system planning, and administration of a stakeholder process that ensures mutually beneficial decisions are made regarding things like resource adequacy, cost allocation and market design."

As a regional transmission organization (RTO) and balancing authority (BA), SPP is responsible for keeping the regional supply of electricity in balance with demand across a 14-state service territory in the central US that stretches from the Canadian border in North Dakota to the panhandle of Texas. It monitors and forecasts minute-by-minute electricity use and dispatches energy from more than 900 utility-owned generating units to meet demand. SPP also oversees operation of more than 70,000 miles of extra high-voltage transmission lines over which electricity flows from where it's produced to the substations where it's distributed by local utilities to homes and businesses.

SPP continues to monitor changing conditions and threats to reliability while communicating grid conditions to its membership, including NIPCO. NIPCO works with its members to inform and respond to evolving grid conditions consistent with established protocols to maintain system reliability. These protocols, developed by NIPCO working with its member cooperatives, ensure reliable electric service across western Iowa and mitigate any confusion surrounding curtailment and communications efforts.


What is an RTO?

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 do work as "air-traffic controllers" of the grid to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure, and "day-ahead" electric market coordination of wholesale electricity prices on behalf of their members.


What is NERC

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is a not-for-profit international regulatory authority whose mission is to assure the effective and efficient reduction of risks to the reliability and security of the grid. NERC develops and enforces Reliability Standards; annually assesses seasonal and long‐term reliability; monitors the bulk power system through system awareness; and educates, trains, and certifies industry personnel. NERC's area of responsibility spans the continental United States, Canada, and the northern portion of Baja California, Mexico. NERC is the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) for North America, subject to oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and governmental authorities in Canada. NERC's jurisdiction includes users, owners, and operators of the bulk power system, which serves nearly 400 million people.


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