Co-op News

Reliability at the forefront

By Anna Politano August 2023

Seasonal high energy demands and supply issues threaten power reliability

Being reliable means “consistently good, dependable, able to be trusted.” Reliability is vital for cooperative members to carry out their lives. Reliable power has come into question as seasonal high energy demands and supply issues threaten the reliability that co-op members, families, businesses and local communities critically depend on.

Recently, the nation’s grid monitor, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), released a summer reliability assessment revealing that two-thirds of the U.S. could face energy shortfalls during periods of extreme heat.

The NERC report warned of an increased number of areas at an elevated risk of “insufficient operation reserves” if electric demand spikes, such as during summer heat waves.

“This report is an especially dire warning that America’s ability to keep the lights on has been jeopardized,” says Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), a trade organization that represents more than 900 electric cooperatives nationwide, including Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives.

In 2021, Winter Storm Uri taught valuable lessons to electric utilities nationwide. The life-threatening storm brought rolling blackouts to portions of Oklahoma. Although brief in nature, rolling blackouts were necessary to prevent the power grid from failing in a critical time when energy demand exceeded supply and reserves. This event, along with others such as Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022, brought increased awareness that fossil fuel generation is vital to keeping the lights on when intermittent resources such as wind and solar do not generate.

“The nature of matching generation to load requires a power supply that can increase and decrease moment to moment to follow load patterns; it has to do this for long periods of time when renewable resources, such as wind and sunshine, are not available,” says Ted Hilmes, CEO of KAMO Power, a generation and transmission cooperative based in Vinita, Oklahoma. “Our industry is in a transition to low-carbon generation. There are significant technical issues that must be resolved to support this transition. Moving too quickly will decrease the reliability of our power supply.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, 86,000 megawatts of coal generation have been retired since 2011 and an additional 73,000 megawatts are expected to be retired by 2028. Electric cooperative industry leaders say fossil fuel plants around the nation are shutting down and the country does not have the needed infrastructure or technology to fill the gap. Without these critical assets, and proper technology and infrastructure to facilitate an energy transition, reliability becomes a growing threat.

“Wind and solar projects are being built, but we have congestion issues in the transmission system. Congestion hampers the delivery of energy from new generation projects. We don’t have enough transmission and it takes many years to build it,” says Gary Roulet, CEO of Western Farmers Electric Cooperative based in Anadarko, Oklahoma. “There are several generation and storage technologies being researched and developed, but none is commercially available today. It could be quite some time.”

Roulet adds that regional factors impact electric generation and transmission from state to state. Oklahoma benefits from having a lot of sunshine and wind as well as natural gas. But reliance on renewable energy as main sources during extreme weather events is concerning.

“I do not believe we can reach zero carbon as electric utilities. We can reduce it (carbon) significantly, but we can’t maintain reliability today with zero carbon,” Roulet says. “We have an obligation to think about our future generations and be responsible. What we can do to reduce carbon, we ought to do, and allow ourselves time to make it work.”

Oklahoma Forecast

Two of three generation and transmission cooperatives that serve Oklahoma’s distribution electric cooperatives, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, are part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a regional transmission organization. The other generation and transmission electric cooperative, KAMO Power, is one of the owners of Associated Electric Cooperative, which is not a part of a regional transmission organization like the SPP.

The NERC Summer Reliability Assessment included the information below for the SPP footprint:

SPP is home to a significant amount of wind power. The intermittent nature of wind power (wind turbines only generate electricity if the wind is blowing, and how much electricity they generate depends on how windy it is) presents operational challenges for grid operators. Wind output during periods of high electricity demand is a key factor in determining whether the system has sufficient electricity supply to maintain reliability. Low wind and high demand periods could result in energy emergencies.

Category: Co-op News

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