FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Feb. 18, 2021
SPP ends Energy Emergency Alert, remains in conservative operations
As of 9:30 a.m. Central time, Feb. 18, Southwest Power Pool (SPP) is no longer under an energy emergency alert (EEA). Due to continuing high loads and other implications of severe cold weather, it remains in a period of conservative operations until 10 p.m. Central time, Feb. 20, for the entire SPP balancing authority area.
“SPP thanks its members, neighboring systems and the millions of people in our region for their response to this historic event,” said Barbara Sugg, SPP president and chief executive officer. “This has been a case study in everyone doing their part on behalf of the greater good. We take our responsibility to keep the lights on very seriously and appreciate the trust placed in us to do so. Thanks to voluntary conservation by people across our 14-state region, the quick actions taken by local utilities, and the dedication and expertise of our operators, we’re thankful we could keep the region-wide impact of this storm to a minimum.” While grid conditions have improved, we anticipate load and generation fluctuation over the next 48 hours, and conditions could change rapidly. In periods of conservative operations, SPP may use longer-term unit commitment notifications, including making commitments prior to day-ahead and/or committing resources that are in reliability status.
SPP previously declared a move from EEA Level 2 to EEA Level 1 at 10:59 p.m. Central time, Feb. 17, 2021. An EEA is declared when all available resources have been committed to meet obligations, and SPP is at risk of not meeting required operating reserves.
“SPP’s and our members’ grid operators are highly trained in crisis situations and work closely together to bring power back online in a controlled manner to ensure grid stability and safety,” said Bruce Rew, SPP senior vice president of operations. “We appreciate how impactful the loss of electricity can be, especially in extreme cold, and only direct our utilities to temporarily reduce regional electricity use when it’s the only way to prevent longer, more widespread, more dangerous, and more costly blackouts.”
This cold-weather event marks the first time in SPP’s history that it has declared Energy Emergency Alert Levels 2 or 3 for its entire region. It is also the first time the grid operator has had to direct member utilities to implement controlled, temporary service interruptions to prevent widespread blackouts. “Considering the historic nature of this storm and how broadly it affected the entire SPP region, we’re grateful we could limit the use of controlled service interruptions to lessen the chance of longer, more impactful and more costly outages, said Lanny Nickell, SPP executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Since SPPs issuance of a Cold Weather Alert to member utilities on Feb. 6, the first indication that heightened awareness was needed in response to forecast weather conditions, the grid operator only directed the interruption of service twice: once for approximately 50 minutes on the morning of Feb. 15, and again for a little more than three hours on the morning of Feb. 16.
While SPP works to maintain regional reliability, customers across our region should continue to follow their local utility's directions regarding safety, conservation and potential outages.
This week’s extreme cold temperatures led to historic levels of energy demand on the U.S. power grid resulting in widespread rolling unplanned power outages throughout much of the central portion of the country. The rolling power outages in this region were linked to the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) service area.
Lake Region Electric members were not affected by rolling blackouts. We did ask members to start shedding large loads during peak times and to start conserving energy to help lighten demand on the grid. We also want our members to prepare, just in case these events affect us.
SPP is a regional transmission organization that acts as a balancing authority for a 14-state region, meaning SPP balances electricity production and use for that entire area. This is why energy conservation in one place, for example South Dakota, can have a meaningful impact on electric reliability in another, like the panhandle of Texas.
Several wholesale power suppliers in our region are participants and transmission owners in SPP, which means that consumers from multiple utilities—including investor-owned utilities, municipals and electric cooperatives—across our region were affected by the event.
Stress on the SPP system began on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 14 when SPP initiated its tiered Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) system. The alert started at EEA Level 1 on the evening of Feb. 14, which meant that the region’s consumers were asked to conserve energy to help reduce the demands on the power grid and prevent extensive and unplanned outages.
On the morning of Monday, Feb. 15, the extreme cold temperatures continued causing excessive demands for electricity throughout SPP’s footprint. At that time, SPP cycled their alert system between EEA Level 2 and up to EEA Level 3, which meant that there wasn’t enough generation available to meet the demand for electricity. The enhanced alerts on Feb. 15 did not result in outages in our region, but they did bring outages to other parts of SPP’s footprint.
On the morning of Feb. 16, SPP again cycled to EEA Level 3 due to lack of generation to meet demand for electricity in their footprint. Through that Level 3 alert, this region’s system operator, the Western Area Power Administration, was forced to shut off power to various parts of the grid. This resulted in rolling power outages in the service areas of multiple utilities across portions of South Dakota and Minnesota as well as through the entire SPP service area. SPP returned to EEA Level 1 around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 16. However, they expect continued excessive electricity demand and generation shortfalls through Wednesday, Feb. 17, and caution that their system may need to return to Level 3 at any point.
South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Chairman Chris Nelson joined South Dakota power providers to urge conservancy. “Unfortunately, electricity demand on the grid has outstripped supply in some areas causing unplanned outages,” said the PUC’s Nelson. “These outages are necessary to keep from compromising the entire grid. I continue to encourage South Dakotans to limit their use of electricity wherever possible so that we can restore normal operations as quickly as possible.”
Consumers can do their part by conserving the use of electricity. Tips to conserve energy include turning your thermostat down a few degrees, delaying the use of large appliances and turning off unnecessary lights. Please contact your local electric cooperative for additional ways to conserve energy.
Why is our area experiencing an energy emergency?
Because of a combination of situations that have led to energy demand outpacing available generation resources.
1. A reduced amount of wind energy generating electricity across a wide area. There has been very little wind compared to normal and some instances of icing in areas along with bitter cold weather which can cause wind towers to shut down to protect their components from damage.
2. Tight natural gas supplies and deliveries in some parts of the region have caused natural gas-fired power plants to either shut down or not run at full capacity. There have been reports of natural gas supply chain issues in several areas.
3. Record cold weather over the Southwest Power Pool footprint has created demand for electricity never seen before in the region. That extreme demand for electricity is putting stress on the electric grid.
What is the Southwest Power Pool and how do they operate within our utility group?
The Southwest Power Pool is a Regional Transmission Organization that balances energy generation with energy usage across 14 states from the Canadian border south to Oklahoma, New Mexico and parts of Texas. On a typical day, generation and transmission assets are used in the most efficient way possible by balancing energy generation with energy needs, allowing generation units across the SPP footprint to run and keep the grid stable at the lowest possible cost.
In the Upper Midwest, the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the federal agency that markets power from the hydroelectric dams, is the Transmission Operator in the region. WAPA operates the larger bulk transmission infrastructure that delivers power to East River Electric. East River Electric operates transmission and substation infrastructure that brings power to local member distribution systems who, in turn, deliver power to homes, farms and businesses. In an emergency situation, SPP gives WAPA notice that rolling outages are needed with little notice. Then WAPA is required to begin rolling outages which impacts the transmission and substations in East River Electric’s system. When their substations are de-energized, consumers of local utilities experience a power outage.
Being a part of the Southwest Power Pool has created many benefits for utilities and their consumers in the region. In times of unplanned outages of generation units in an area, the Southwest Power Pool is able to access generation in another area to ensure consumers continue to have power. It has also brought financial benefits to consumers.
Why wasn’t there enough generation to meet the extra electricity demand?
The utilities involved in the Southwest Power Pool are required to carry a surplus of generation resources throughout the year over and above their historic peak electric demand so they are prepared for extreme circumstances. However, when wind resources and other generation are constrained, there is a limited amount of other generation available to serve the region’s recent record demand for electricity.
Have rolling outages ever happened in our region before?
No. This is an unprecedented event in the history of the Southwest Power Pool. Local utilities have of course dealt with outages in our area in the past due to storms, icing, wind and other natural occurrences. However, the record-setting cold weather that stretches from Canada to Texas has created energy demands never seen before on the transmission system across the entire region.
Why were consumers not given advance notice about the rolling outages?
The rolling outages were an emergency action that the Southwest Power Pool worked for the past couple of days to prevent. Starting on Sunday, Feb. 14, and continuing on Monday, Feb. 15, SPP asked member utilities to begin asking the public to reduce their energy usage as a way to lessen the potential strain on the electric grid. Utilities began to make public appeals in the media and social media beginning on Feb. 14 and through Feb. 15. On Feb. 15, SPP transitioned to its highest alert level, EEA Level 3, resulting in rolling power outages in other parts of the SPP system. However, that Level 3 alert did not result in outages in our area.
As electric demand continued to increase on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 16, SPP again issued its highest energy emergency declaration. When it became clear that there was not enough generation on the grid to meet electric demand, SPP asked the Western Area Power Administration to begin controlled rolling outages at around 7:00 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16. There wasn’t an ability to give consumers advanced warning of the outages.
Will rolling outages continue?
Possibly. With cold weather expected to continue possibly through Wednesday into Thursday across the region, there is still a possibility that rolling outages could be needed. These short-term outages are needed to protect the electric grid from longer, more sustained outages.
Southwest Power Pool restores load, anticipates that regional grid conditions will continue to evolve.
Little Rock, Ark. — After directing its member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of service shortly after noon on Feb. 15, Southwest Power Pool (SPP) has restored load to its 14-state region as of 2:00 p.m. Central time. The grid operator now has enough generation available to meet demand throughout its service territory and to fully meet its minimum reserve requirements.
The SPP system reached a peak electricity usage of 43,661 megawatts (MW) on Feb. 15, and is required to carry additional operating reserves in excess of load. After committing all of its reserves and exhausting other avenues such as importing power from other regions, available generation in SPP fell about 641 MW short of demand for a period beginning just after noon. In response, SPP directed its member utilities to implement planned interruptions of service to curtail electricity use by that amount.
Effective at 2:00 p.m., SPP canceled the Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 3 it had declared at 10:08 a.m. when its reserves were exhausted, and re-entered an EEA Level 2. SPP’s forecasts anticipate that due to high load and persistent cold weather, it is likely its system will fluctuate between EEA Levels 2 and 3 over the next 48 hours and may have to direct further interruptions of service if available generation is inadequate to meet high demand.
While SPP and our member companies work to maintain regional reliability, we urge consumers across our service territory to conserve electricity at home and work, and to follow their local utility’s directions regarding safety, conservation, and potential outages.
Henceforth, SPP will cease distributing press releases such as this one with every declaration of an Energy Emergency Alert, and will instead publish regular system updates to social media and to its Current Grid Conditions page on SPP.org.
SPP thanks the public for their cooperation and understanding during this power grid emergency. Follow us on Twitter or visit SPP.org for updates.
About SPP: Southwest Power Pool, Inc. is a regional transmission organization: a not-for-profit corporation mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitive wholesale electricity prices on behalf of its members. SPP manages the electric grid across 17 central and western U.S. states and provides energy services on a contract basis to customers in both the Eastern and Western Interconnections. The company’s headquarters are in Little Rock, Arkansas. Learn more at SPP.org.