How we are notified of potential and impending energy emergencies

Southwest Power Pool map
Map courtesy of Southwest Power Pool.

Most of us are familiar with the long, high-pitched beeps that interrupt television and radio programs. It’s mostly in the summer and winter when the National Weather Service notifies us of potential weather emergencies. These beeps and computer-generated voices inform us of severe weather watches or warnings and we are conditioned to know what to do with the information they provide.

There are similar notifications the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) uses for energy emergencies – alerts that tell us what to do if there are issues occurring that threaten its ability to provide energy to customers across its 14-state service territory. These alerts, however, are not nearly as well-known because prior to the week of Feb. 14, the energy emergency alert had only been issued once, and never progressed beyond the initial level of severity.

Because these alerts are so rare, and the aftermath that has the potential to follow them can be serious, it is important for Basin Electric, its member cooperatives, and members at the end of the line to understand what these alerts mean so they can take the proper precautions – just as they do when they hear the beeps signaling potential severe weather.

Following are some of the questions that arose during the unprecedented events of the week of Feb. 14 and answers provided by the SPP’s communication team; Tom Christensen, Basin Electric senior vice president of Transmission, Engineering, and Construction and Valerie Weigel, Basin Electric director of asset management and commodity strategy.

What is a resource alert?

SPP issues a resource alert when severe weather conditions, significant outages, uncertainty in the wind forecast, and/or uncertainty in the load forecast are expected in its balancing authority area.

What is a declaration of conservative operations?

A declaration of conservative operations is given to SPP’s member utility operators directing them to operate conservatively to mitigate the risk of worsening conditions. Declarations of conservative operations have been issued several times – even within the past year. Lloyd Linke, senior vice president of operations for the Western Area Power Administration’s Upper Great Plains Region (Basin Electric’s transmission operator), compares this declaration to acting more cautious in a situation that has the potential to become dangerous, such as not going out in a boat when a severe thunderstorm has been predicted.

What is an Energy Emergency Alert?

There are three levels of Energy Emergency Alerts (EEA), and SPP fluctuated back and forth between all three levels throughout the week of Feb. 14.

EEA level 1 signals that SPP foresees or is experiencing conditions where all available resources are scheduled to meet firm load obligations and that SPP may be unable to sustain its required contingency reserves. SPP has issued an EEA level 1 in the past.

EEA level 2 is triggered when SPP can no longer meet expected energy requirements and is considered energy deficient. At this point, SPP is using available energy reserves, is requesting assistance from neighboring utility operators, and is doing everything it can short of interrupting firm load commitments. EEA levels 1 and 2 can be compared to a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch – conditions are right for the thunderstorm or tornado to happen.

EEA level 3 signals that operating reserves are below the required minimum. During this level, SPP directs its member utilities to be prepared to implement controlled interruptions of service if necessary. At this point, SPP has done everything it can short of curtailing firm load, and it is very likely members will be asked to shed load. Two instances of controlled interruptions of service happened during the events in mid-February. An EEA level 3 can be compared to a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning – the storm has been spotted and is headed your way.

How often has SPP implemented controlled interruption of service?

SPP has been coordinating energy services since 1941 and has never issued an Energy Emergency Alert beyond a level 1 before the February event. This was also the first time in SPP’s 70-year history that SPP called for controlled interruptions of service.

Energy Emergency Alert
Social media graphics were created to encourage energy conservation the week of Feb. 14. Extensive energy conservation across SPP’s 14-state service area resulted in a peak 1,339 megawatts lower than predicted on Feb. 15. That equals electricity for over 1 million homes, or nearly all the energy generated from both Leland Olds Station and Antelope Valley Station.

What caused constraints on the electric grid?

Extreme and prolonged cold weather across SPP’s service area, natural gas supply issues, decreased natural gas generation due to supply and freezing issues, and decreased wind generation and operation all contributed to this energy emergency.

What is the difference between blackouts and controlled interruptions of service?

The term “blackout” is typically associated with uncontrolled, cascading outages. When blackouts occur, the power goes out without warning and can be prolonged and difficult to recover from. Controlled interruptions of service are planned and not prolonged. Controlled interruptions are done to avoid issues such as cascading outages and equipment damage, which could lead to grid collapse, also known as a blackout.

When SPP asked end-use consumers to conserve energy, did those conservation efforts actually help?

Yes. SPP forecasted a system-wide peak of 45,000 megawatts on Feb. 15, and thanks to conservation measures taken by end-use consumers, the actual peak was 43,661 MW. That 1,339 megawatts equals electricity for over 1 million homes, or nearly all the energy generated from both Leland Olds Station and Antelope Valley Station. This extensive conservation helped delay coordinated interruptions of service for a longer period of time than originally anticipated and minimized the number of members that had to shed load.

What has Basin Electric done to help its members maintain reliability in situations like this?

This energy emergency is a prime example of why Basin Electric believes so strongly in an all-of-the-above energy strategy. The power Basin Electric uses to serve its member load obligations comes from many different sources, including coal, renewables, natural gas, water (hydroelectricity), oil, and recovered energy. Basin Electric also purchases power from the market.

This event highlights the value of Basin Electric being a member in markets like SPP and Midcontinent ISO (MISO). The SPP market provides a mix of more than 800 generators that can supply energy to the market in varying conditions. That is the benefit of the market. If we can’t show up with all of our resources, somebody else is able to provide them for us.

Because Basin Electric’s resource portfolio is so diverse, the co-op’s power supply is very reliable – if one source isn’t producing, there are other options available to fill in the gaps. Without all these diverse sources, the interruptions in service would have been much more significant.

February Energy Emergency Timeline



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