SPP Energy Emergency Alerts impact central and western Iowa

Utilities across the Midwest, including Corn Belt Power Cooperative, implemented load control measures and temporary service disruptions to some accounts on Feb. 15 and 16. These highly unusual control measures protected the supply and demand balance of the grid. Demand exceeded available electric generation because of extremely cold weather impacting the region over several days.

Many electric utilities across the country are members of one of nine regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs), also referred to as power pools. Corn Belt Power Cooperative’s RTO is Southwest Power Pool (SPP). These federally regulated entities work on a regional scale to coordinate, control and monitor supply and demand on the electric grid. RTOs do not own the power grid, but they do work as “air-traffic controllers” of the grid to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitive wholesale electricity prices on behalf of their members.

SPP issued unprecedented Emergency Energy Alert (EEA) Level 2 and Level 3 orders to its member utilities across several states on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16, calling for high levels of electric load reduction and the curtailment to match available supply. To put it simply, there was not enough available generation supply to meet the exceptionally high electric demand.

Corn Belt Power’s times of curtailment included:

Monday, February 15, Corn Belt Power curtailed 5 megawatts of load for approximately 45 minutes around the noon hour. Approximately 1,500 accounts were without power.
Tuesday, February 16, Corn Belt Power was asked to curtail 24 megawatts of load between 6:45 – 10:15 a.m. Approximately 12,500 accounts were without power at some point during the event.

These outages occurred without much advanced warning as
SPP manages electric supply and demand minute-by-minute in real time. Corn Belt Power Cooperative had minutes to shed specific electric load levels as they complied with Level 3 orders.

Outages and load curtailment measures are necessary to protect the entire SPP grid. If electric generation cannot keep up with electric demand, grid reliability can be severely compromised. In the worst-case scenario, power plants across the SPP footprint would have been at risk of cascading outages that would have left tens of thousands of electric consumers in the dark for hours, possibly even days. When possible, electric utilities work to avoid interrupting service to critical facilities.

During the event Corn Belt Power’s Wisdom Station Unit 2 ran continuously on fuel oil. Lack of natural gas led to the curtailment of Unit 1.
Jacob Olberding, vice president, power supply, Corn Belt Power, said fuel orders were made around the clock.

  “As of Friday, February 19, we ordered 115 truckloads of fuel oil, amounting to 922,808 gallons for Unit 2,” he said. “That total includes a one day run on Feb. 8. Our continuous run started on Friday, Feb. 12. This is certainly an unprecedented event. Wisdom Station hasn’t seen this type of run on fuel oil ever. It’s really a testament to our plant employees’ hardwork. They worked around the clock to make sure Unit 2 stayed online and ran efficiently.”