Nation’s electric grid could face winter challenges
A recent NERC assessment says risks grow with the retirement of coal and nuclear generation.
The increasing demand for electricity and the retirement of reliable power plants are contributing to an “unprecedented” risk of power shortages across the United States this winter, according to a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).
NERC, the entity charged with maintaining the reliability of the electric grid, issued its annual Winter Reliability Assessment in November. This assessment indicates that the shutdown of dependable power plants, inadequate generation weatherization, fuel supply risks and a shortage of natural gas pipeline capacity could lead to requests for energy conservation and the potential for controlled power outages across the U.S.
“The bulk power system is impacted year after year, more than it has ever been,” said John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment. “Weather is the most influential factor. The grid has to constantly balance supply and demand.”
If power supply is not adequate to balance demand, controlled outages must be implemented to avoid cascading failures. In extreme cold temperatures, short outages can present extraordinary hardships – and can even be life-threatening.
Minnkota Power Cooperative has more than enough electric generation resources (coal, wind and hydro) to meet its requirements throughout the year. However, Minnkota is interconnected with other utilities across the Upper Midwest through an organization called MISO. Challenges in other parts of the MISO region can and do impact Minnkota’s operations.
Since last winter, more than 4.2 gigawatts (equivalent to 4.2 billion watts) of coal and nuclear power plant capacity were retired without adequate replacement in other areas of the MISO system. These resources provide vital reliability and resiliency to the grid because they have the ability to operate on a 24/7 basis and are built to run in subzero temperatures. Conversely, wind and solar farms can be prone to operational challenges in extreme cold conditions – including shutdown.
Minnkota is taking action to ensure it is ready for the winter season and is doing everything possible to protect its membership from challenges, including:
- Routine maintenance and weatherization of electric generation and transmission assets are conducted to ensure reliability.
- Minnkota continues to operate and maintain its coal-based resources, which have performed well in polar vortex events and during other weather-related challenges.
- Minnkota’s robust off-peak program provides vital grid support during extreme events and helps shield the membership from high-cost energy purchases on the open market.
- Minnkota continues to advocate for a sensible energy transition that works toward environmental goals while still ensuring the reliability of the electric grid.
- Minnkota will continue to work with policymakers to help explain the impacts of legislation on the reliability and affordability of electricity.