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Winter Reliability Through All-of-the-Above Energy

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

In November, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released a report outlining its 2023/2024 Winter Reliability Assessment.


The annual assessment garners a lot of attention from the media, and rightfully so, as the topic of power supply reliability is important. Americans want to be assured that their energy needs are being met, especially as weather forecasters are predicting an El Nino climate pattern that could produce impactful weather across the US in the months ahead.


Illustration of the United States and Canda and the none resgional transmission organizations, or RTOs represented.
North American Regional Transmission Organizations. (Image: NERC)

Electric utilities across the country are members of one of nine regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs), also called 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.


The November 2023 NERC assessment report covers three months (December-February) identified as the winter period.


Key findings in the report outline that Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the RTO that serves western and some central Iowa cooperatives, is at an elevated risk for insufficient operating reserves in above-normal conditions such as extreme weather. According to the report, “The Anticipated Reserve Margin (ARM) of 38.8% is over 30 percentage points lower than last winter; this is driven by higher forecasted peak demand and less resource capacity. While the reserve margin is adequate for normal forecasted peak demand and expected generator outages, higher demand levels and outages that have occurred during extreme cold weather result in shortfalls that can trigger energy emergencies. The vast wind resources in the area can alleviate firm capacity shortages under the right conditions; however, energy risks emerge during periods of low wind or forecast uncertainty and high electricity demand.”


So, while our region is highlighted as an elevated risk, the report indicates expected generation resources will meet operating reserve requirements under normal peak-demand scenarios.


A chalkboard illustration of a lightbulb that is lit.
Energy availability is dependent on all forms of generation.

What does this mean for you?

Winter Storm Elliott, which brought extreme cold to our region in December of 2022, challenged 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 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 our service territory to all-time highs.


NIPCO set a new all-time record peak of 269.36 MW (megawatts) at 5:30 pm on December 22, 2022. This value represents an 12.97 MW (5%) increase from the previous peak, recorded on February 16, 2021, of 256.39 MW during Winter Storm Uri.


Demand for power reached a record-setting level, but the energy needs of western Iowans were met. And, while SPP and MISO, our neighboring RTO, continue to experience energy emergency alerts (EEAs) and resource advisories during events that test their limits, the nation’s BES continues to evolve and learn from the lessons taught to us during winter storm Uri in 2021.

 

Why is “All-of-the-Above” Energy Important?

Energy advisories and alerts further display what we already know: the energy transition must consider all forms of generation.


More renewable energy sources like wind and solar are coming online, while traditional sources like coal, nuclear, and natural gas are retiring. While renewable energy has clear benefits, we believe and advocate for an all-of-the-above energy approach. All-of-the-above promotes the idea that the United States depends on a reliable and sustainable fuel supply that includes developing and incorporating domestically produced renewable energy resources to supplement baseload generation, including biofuels, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower, and coal.


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


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. 

 

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. However, as a member-owned electric cooperative, we will monitor and communicate energy supply updates as they arise.

 

 

Learn More

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.

 

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.

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