Unprecedented energy emergency causes coordinated outages across Basin Electric membership

Extreme and prolonged cold weather across Southwest Power Pool’s (SPP) 14-state service area, natural gas supply issues, and decreased wind generation have contributed to an unprecedented energy emergency across Basin Electric’s membership.

Basin Electric Class A and C members experienced interruptions of service starting on the morning of Feb. 15 and the possibility of more continues through the time of this publication on Feb. 17. The outages are a result of direction given by SPP for Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) to shed load on the transmission grid. WAPA and Basin Electric are members of Southwest Power Pool.

SPP issued an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 1, and then Level 2, on Feb. 14. SPP began asking electric users within their footprint to conserve energy. The regional transmission organization forecasted a system-wide peak of 45,000 megawatts (MW) on the morning of Feb. 15, and thanks to conservation measures taken by end-use consumers, the actual peak was 43,661 MW. This helped delay coordinated interruptions of service for a longer period of time than originally anticipated and minimized the number of members that had to shed load.

The regional transmission organization issue an EEA Level 3 on the mornings of Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 during peak load conditions. An EEA Level 3 signals that operating reserves are below the required minimum needed to serve load on the system. During an EEA Level 3, SPP directs its member utilities to be prepared to implement controlled interruptions of service if necessary. As SPP put out the call to curtail load per transmission operator depending on the amount needed, WAPA quickly curtailed Basin Electric’s members to prevent risk of uncontrolled outages which may be more difficult and lengthy to restore.

On Feb. 15, SPP curtailed 641 MW, or about 1.5% of their total peak load, for about 50 minutes. On Feb. 16, SPP curtailed 3,000 MW, or about 6.5% of their total peak load. By midday, SPP was back to an EEA Level 1. The coordinated interruptions of service generally last about 45 minutes to a few hours.

“Nobody wants to curtail power, but when a situation like this occurs, we need to move quickly to prevent a situation that becomes uncontrolled and serious very quickly,” Lanny Nickell, SPP executive vice president and chief operating officer, said during a phone conference on Feb. 16. “We know transmission operators are able to interrupt power very quickly. We wish we could give more notice, but we do hold off on interrupting power as long as possible.”

“We wait until the last minute, because we have to,” Barbara Sugg, SPP CEO and general manager, said during a phone conference on Feb. 16. “We don’t want to cut power preemptively and we only will cut the amount of power that is absolutely necessary.”

The system is expected to go in and out of the need for controlled interruptions of service through Feb. 18. Electric cooperative members are asked to contact their local electric cooperatives, or watch their Facebook pages and websites, for more information in their local areas.

“The conservation efforts have been incredible. I want to stress that the outages would have been more significant if not for the people in their homes, the businesses, the industries, doing what they can to conserve energy,” Sugg said. “We so appreciate local utilities getting the message out to their consumers to save energy. It absolutely makes a difference.”

Paul Sukut, Basin Electric CEO and general manager, said this event underscores the importance of baseload generation. “This energy emergency is a prime example of why Basin Electric believes so strongly in an all-of-the-above energy strategy. The power Basin Electric uses to serve its member load obligations comes from many different sources, including coal, renewables, natural gas, water (hydroelectricity), oil, and recovered energy,” he said. “Basin Electric also purchases power from the market. Because our resource portfolio is so diverse, the co-op’s power supply is very reliable – if one source isn’t producing, there are other options available to fill in the gaps. Without all these diverse sources, the interruptions in service would have been more significant.”

SPP has been coordinating energy services since 1941 and has never issued an EEA beyond a Level 1 before Feb. 15, and this was the first time in SPP’s history that SPP has called for controlled interruptions of service.