Resilience rises in focus as weather gets more extreme

Over the last several years, the electric utility industry has placed greater emphasis on the concept of resilience. In the very simplest of terms: Reliability is keeping the lights on and resilience is the ability to get the lights back on as quickly as possible following an interruption.

These are not new interests for electric cooperatives, but there are reasons resilience is a hot topic today and why Great River Energy is investing more time and resources than ever to ensure it.

Great River Energy’s transmission division initiated two significant resilience efforts in 2021, including one that allows the cooperative to identify areas of its transmission system that may be impacted by significant weather events in the future and evaluate types of mitigation.

“We have always been concerned with resilience, but the focus now is at a new level based on climate change and major weather events,” said Matt Lacey, director of transmission strategy and development at Great River Energy, who also leads the transmission division’s resilience program. “Thinking about resilience is now part of our everyday work.”

The cooperative’s transmission division initiated two significant resilience efforts in 2021. The first was to use climate model data to understand where natural weather events could occur and the likelihood of their re-occurrence relative to historical location. The information allows Great River Energy to identify areas of its transmission system that may be impacted by significant weather events in the future and evaluate types of mitigation.

The second initiative was a comprehensive review of various Great River Energy resilience program aspects using an industry model developed by the North American Transmission Forum. Great River Energy conducted a self-review involving 34 employees and identified strengths and opportunities.

Great River Energy’s power supply team has an organized effort around resilience as well. A generation resilience team has identified four pillars of generation plant resilience: plant, fuel, staff and process.

“The team is taking steps to make sure during extreme weather events our plants operate like they should and do not freeze,” said Nathan Domyahn, director of generation strategy at Great River Energy.

Domyahn said the team is considering things like additional insulation and heat to equipment, and arctic-level grease and oils. They are increasing fuel oil storage going into the winter season, understanding that when extreme weather hits, natural gas prices spike. The team is also reviewing staffing to make sure enough people are in place and trained for extreme events.

Finally, the team is developing a cold weather preparedness plan, which aligns with a requirement from the Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO). The MRO is the entity that performs reliability audits of Great River Energy on behalf of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

Marc Child, security program manager at Great River Energy, said information technology plays a critical role in resilience as well.

“Information technology provides assurance to operators that their communications networks and technologies meet strict availability requirements, augmented with automation to detect and recover from incidents and service degradation,” Child said.