Electric system weathers arctic temps

The new year brought with it frigid temperatures contributing to very high winter demand for electricity across the Midwest, including on the Great River Energy system.

“If you provide electricity in Minnesota, you need to be prepared for this type of weather – and the market conditions that often follow,” said Great River Energy Vice President and Chief Power Supply Officer Jon Brekke. “Weather extremes place added demands on the electric grid, and we design our system to handle it.”

It wasn’t just the weather presenting challenges. Natural gas was costly and at times unavailable due to mechanical events on pipelines and heightened demand for heating needs. There were also several cold days when the region’s abundant wind resources were largely idle due to low wind speeds.

High demand and fuel constraints drive up the wholesale market price for electricity. During times like these, Great River Energy works with its member cooperatives to shape energy consumption and focuses on keeping generation facilities up and running to best optimize for market conditions.

According to the Midwest electric grid operator, MISO, utilities were better prepared for this cold weather due to lessons learned during the “polar vortex” of 2014. At that time, energy resources were taxed by persistent cold temperatures in much of the United States – the coldest of which occurred in Great River Energy’s service area.

“Continuous learning from every experience is an important principle at MISO,” said Mark Brown of MISO. “Lessons learned and applied since the polar vortex – including increased electric-gas coordination – improved MISO’s ability to respond to challenging situations.”

Of particular importance during the cold snap were generation resources with dedicated fuel supplies. Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station power plant produced energy at or near maximum output due to its on-site coal reserves. Fuel flexibility at Spiritwood Station allowed operators to reduce natural gas consumption during periods of high prices or elevated demand.

“Our portfolio includes diverse fuels and technologies, and we continually evaluate our system to make sure it meets members’ needs in any weather,” added Brekke.