Several United Power members have asked about this severe weather situation that occurred in Texas, wondering if something similar could happen here at United Power. There are a number of factors that are unique to the Texas power market and grid that make that region susceptible to both outages and price swings. At United Power we operate under a different wholesale power structure and have a more robust regional network to back up our power grid – both factors that help us avoid a situation like the one in Texas.
When the weather is at its worst, electric co-ops are at their best, working together to keep the lights on. United Power currently purchases all its wholesale power from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which is a generation electric cooperative that provides service to four states. Tri-State and its members work around the clock to keep power reliable for distribution cooperatives like United Power.
How did our power supplier and our region perform during the severe winter weather?
Tri-State was able to provide the power its members needed, while managing costs to protect its members from higher electricity bills.
Tri-State’s initial analysis on the operational and financial impacts from the Feb. 13-17 winter storm, which has created financial difficulties for utility services providers in many parts of the U.S., show that the storm had an immaterial financial impact on Tri-State.
Sufficient resources were available to fully serve all the cooperative members electric loads, and no wholesale rate increase will be required or passed along to Tri-State's 42 member cooperatives and public power districts as a result of the severe weather.
What role did various generation technologies play during the recent severe weather?
Tri-State’s coal generation fleet performed extremely well during the weather event, providing reliable and low-cost power for the duration of the severe weather.
In response to the limited availability and high price of natural gas, Tri-State made the decision to use fuel oil at its dual-fuel combustion turbine generating plants. This action significantly reduced Tri-State’s exposure to record high natural gas prices, which were driven by lower supply and higher demand as space heating needs increased.
Tri-State’s solar resources performed adequately, but were below the monthly forecast. Wind resources were more significantly impacted and performed far below forecast due to low wind speeds and icing conditions. Such conditions for wind generation performance, however, are not unexpected during these types of severe winter weather events.
Tri-State's recent entry on Feb. 1 into the Southwest Power Pool’s Western Energy Imbalance Service market also supported the cooperative’s members through the weather event. The new market performed well, maximizing the efficient usage of the transmission system and dispatching the lowest-cost resources.
How does Tri-State ensure resources are available and prepare for severe weather?
Maintaining the electric grid is a real-time operation. Power must be generated at the very moment it’s used in the exact amount that’s needed at all times. Keeping our electric grid stable requires continual, real-time monitoring to balance supply and demand.
Tri-State plans its resources with a reserve that helps ensure that it will be able to meet its member cooperatives electricity needs. Tri-State also maintains operating reserves that can be brought on within 10 minutes, and works with other utilities in “reserve sharing groups” to help ensure loads can be met.
To anticipate electricity needs, Tri-State’s staff use a combination of load forecasts and weather conditions to predict system demand. They also rely on their experience. Looking ahead at generation availability and scheduling energy purchases helps ensure there is enough electricity to meet demand at the lowest costs available.
Operationally, Tri-State maintains its power plants and transmission system to be reliable year-round. When severe winter weather approaches, Tri-State prepares its power plants, and if severe weather is forecast that could affect its transmission infrastructure, Tri-State will position lineworkers in key areas to ensure they can address any issues as quickly as possible.
Why did the severe winter weather cause power outages in some areas of the country?
In the electric grid that serves the western U.S., including United Power, there were no reports of power outages tied to the availability of electricity.
In the eastern grid, where Tri-State serves several members in Nebraska as part of the Southwest Power Pool’s regional transmission organization, very cold weather increased electricity demand and power production challenges tightened power reserves, resulting in very limited and brief interruptions of power that were coordinated among transmission operators. Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) also required some load shedding in the eastern interconnection.
In the Texas electric grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), there were more significant issues as record cold weather increased electricity demand, which exceeded the resources available to produce electricity as fuel supplies and power plants were also affected by the record cold weather. As electricity reserves in ERCOT severely tightened, electric service was curtailed to help protect grid reliability. Prices for natural gas and electricity reached record levels. These conditions persisted for several days. Regulators are investigating the reliability and energy cost issues across the country.
How should member-owners prepare for weather-related power outages?
As recent wildfires and winter storms remind us, Mother Nature can be unpredictable. It’s important to be prepared and have an action plan for possible power outages, both for short- and long-term events. Some things to consider include:
- Create a safety plan for all members of your family, including pets;
- Stock up on supplies, including food, water, currency, batteries, flashlights, first aid kits. This also includes filling up your vehicle with gasoline before a cold spell;
- Make sure sufficient supplies of medicines are available. Be prepared to be able to charge medical devices, or have another back up plan like back up oxygen canisters, etc.;
- Be prepared to store larger quantities of water and in some cases, be prepared to boil water. Never use heating equipment intend for outdoors, such as camping gear, to heat water or cook inside your home;
- Always have your mobile phone charged, and be prepared for alternative methods of charging (such as from a vehicle);
- Routinely check on backup power sources if available, such as gas generators, to make sure they can operate during an outage;
- Have a battery-powered radio on-hand; • Keep emergency numbers handy; and
- Be prepared to move to an alternative location with power if necessary. This could be with family or friends, a local shelter, etc.