Basin Electric employees participate in technical conference on February energy emergency

The North Dakota Public Service Commission (NDPSC) held a technical conference on May 20 to learn more about the severe weather event that led to an energy emergency affecting the central part of the United States in mid-February.

Basin Electric, along with several of its members and other cooperatives, investor-owned utilities, Southwest Power Pool (SPP), and Midcontinent ISO, met with the NDPSC about the February event and how they can work together to ensure long-term reliability.

Basin Electric Senior Vice President of Transmission, Engineering, and Construction Tom Christensen and Basin Electric Director of Asset Management and Commodity Strategy Valerie Weigel represented the cooperative in the panel discussion and Jean Schafer, Basin Electric senior legislative representative, and Nichole Braunberger, Basin Electric manager of market operations, were on hand to provide additional information, if needed.

Christensen said SPP is performing a comprehensive review of the winter weather event, and while the report is not yet final, the data so far shows the major cause of the winter weather event and subsequent firm load curtailments was a lack of fuel supply.

“An example to demonstrate this would be a package delivery service such as UPS or FedEx,” Christensen said. “They need a certain number of trucks, for example 100, to deliver their packages. They may have extra trucks, for example 12, and do excellent maintenance on the truck fleet so that they always have the required number of trucks available. This works very well because the probability of each truck’s availability is essentially independent of each other truck. However, when the fuel supply is inadequate, it’s a common mode failure and no matter how many extra trucks they have or how well they’ve done maintenance, there will be a problem due to the lack of fuel supply. This example demonstrates the primary cause of the load curtailments during the winter weather event.”

Weigel said that Basin Electric staff has voting representation on 19 of SPP’s working groups and participates in many additional working group discussions, as well. “Through these working group meetings and discussions, Basin Electric, along with other market participants and SPP staff, we have worked to develop products that will compensate the resources in the market for the services they provide.”

Other issues discussed included SPP policy, SPP changes and improvements, supply adequacy, gas and electric coordination, load shed, how Basin Electric prepares its resources for reliability in cold weather conditions, and what the co-op plans to do differently to ensure reliability in future events.

Basin Electric’s government relations team works closely with the NDPSC on many issues. Schafer said the technical conference helped give the NDPSC a better idea of what cooperatives in the SPP footprint are doing to address reliability concerns brought about after the February’s event. "It was a great opportunity to talk about some of the lessons we learned from the event and how we will address these issues the next time this or another type of energy emergency could potentially happen,” she said.

Basin Electric is participating in ongoing meetings with member cooperatives and other agencies regarding the February event, including its transmission operator, Western Area Power Administration (WAPA). The second in WAPA’s series of meetings was held on May 18.

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