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Wicked Winter Weather Leads to Power Outages for Millions
North Dakota Ag Connection - 02/18/2021

Millions of Americans remained without power Wednesday as brutal winter weather spiked demand for electricity, causing widespread outages and forcing some states to institute rolling blackouts to conserve energy, reports the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

"The demand for electricity on the ERCOT grid is currently greater than the supply of generated electricity," Johnson City, Texas-based Pedernales Electric Cooperative told its members Tuesday. "To protect the grid and ensure it remains stable, the demand is lessened in a controlled way. One way to lessen demand is to conserve electricity."

The co-op said the Electric Reliability Council of Texas remained under a mandatory conservation order issued Sunday for utilities serving about 26 million meters spread across most of Texas.

Similar orders were in place for the Southwest Power Pool, which began calling for load reduction Monday.

"With the extremely frigid weather that has impacted large regions of the nation over the past several days, electric demand (mostly due to electric heat) has reached historic highs," SPP officials said, adding that in the past few days there has not been enough available generation to meet demand.

In Iowa, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative and Corn Belt Energy worked with member distribution co-ops to reduce load. Le Mars-based NIPCO used voluntary load control programs to avoid service disruptions. Humboldt-based Corn Belt has responded with a combination of water heater controls and temporary service disruptions.

"Electric co-ops are working as swiftly and safely as possible to restore power in the wake of record-cold temperatures," said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. "This historic storm serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of a diverse fuel supply, robust transmission infrastructure, and effective coordination between grid operators and electricity providers."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced they will launch formal probes into problems with natural gas deliveries and the performance of nuclear facilities during the historically frigid winter weather.

That probe will involve review of actions by SPP, ERCOT and the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator, which also directed some members in Texas, Louisiana and Illinois to conserve power. MISO used rolling blackouts to manage load, citing transmission constraints and generation outages.

"Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions," said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who also called on the state's legislators to investigate ERCOT's operations during the event. More than 4 million Texas consumers have faced service disruptions since Sunday.

The power outages and rolling blackouts were also contributing to water-pumping problems and telecommunications and internet outages in many areas.

Meanwhile, distribution co-ops in other regions of the country affected by heavy snow, ice storms and high winds continue to assess damage to lines and poles and rebuild their systems.

In Virginia, crews from Fredericksburg-based Rappahannock Electric Cooperative were working their way through restoration projects across the co-op's service territory amid the threat of another impending winter storm.

"Do not be caught off-guard," said Casey Hollins, director of communications and public relations. "This storm poses a very real threat of additional and possibly prolonged power outages, including the areas where power was restored over the past few days."

Both interstate and intrastate mutual aid were in progress for some of the hardest-hit co-op service territories. Restoration work also continued Wednesday in the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest and parts of the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States.

Summerdale, Ala.-based Baldwin Electric Membership Corp. sent crews to Mississippi to help with power restoration. Sumterville, Fla.-based SECO Energy released contract crews to head west to assist with repairs and tree work in Texas.

"We appreciate the crews' willingness to leave their homes and families to assist others," said SECO CEO Jim Duncan.

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