Area Utilities Say Extreme Cold Is Putting A Huge Burden On Their Distribution Systems

Mon 2-15-2021

(Estherville)-- Area utility providers say the ongoing extreme cold is heavily tasking their distribution systems, and demand is going off the charts. Rick Oleson, General Manger of Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, tells KUOO news they're asking customers to do whatever they can to help ease atleast some of the demand. He says ILEC is part of two large regional transmission organizations, one of them being the Southern Power Pool, or SPP, which includes a large part of the central U.S. from the Canadian border to Texas. Oleson says SPP the past couple of days had been operating under a level 1 state of emergency. He says that was upgraded this (Monday) morning to level 2 and was escalated even further late this (Monday) morning to level 3. Oleson says that means utilities may be forced to implement rolling blackouts, which is already being done in the southern plains...Extreme Cold & Power Demand01 

"We've worked with a lot of our, especially a lot of our larger industrial users, and we do have a load management system where we control water heater loads basically on our system, and, you know, basically the next couple of days, Monday and Tuesday, here, that emergency is in play and we'll try to conserve resources where we can, but like everybody we need to keep buildings warm and equipment warm to be able to operate."

Adding to the challenge is a bit of a shortage in the supply of power. Oleson says the extreme cold has resulted in some wind generation being shut down...Extreme Cold & Power Demand02 

"Northern parts of the country though, once it gets to be a certain temperature those wind resources, due to brittleness of metal, basically on the turbine towers and other equipment when it gets below say 25 degrees below zero, they do have to curtail the turbines because of potential damage to the equipment. So some of the wind resources we have in the central part of the country where this extremely cold air has moved in is restricted right now, so they're calling on every generation resource that they have and of course where we can conserve load we're trying to do so."

Oleson says it points out the need to continue to have multiple sources for power generation available as options.

When it comes to peak demand, Oleson says Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative's system is very close to that right now...Extreme Cold & Power Demand03 

"We can get just over 120 megawatts on our system. This morning we were a little bit over 100 megawatts and that is because some of those larger industrial users have scaled back a bit at our request. So we're approaching our maximum peak and with the last week, you know, just energy sales, it's going to be a tremendous amount of energy that's been delivered. On the actual peak, we're right there with what the system maximum is, but again, because we have some facilities that are restricting their loads now, that's kept us under that maximum peak. On the Cornbelt side I know looking at their loads on our SCADA system, you know, they're in excess of 300 megawatts which is pretty much an absolute system peak for them."

Fortunately Oleson says there have been no widespread outages reported in the region.