Region Faces Unpresidented Energy Emergency
On February 14, 2021, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation notified Western Cooperative Electric there was a growing concern for tightening electricity supplies due to frigid temperatures. Power suppliers across the region asked consumers to conserve power to maintain the reliability of the grid voluntarily.
The following day, Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which serves as the regional transmission operator and balancing authority for 14 states in the mid-continent, issued an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 2.
The afternoon of February 15, the situation had worsened to the point of issuing an EEA Level 3 for the entire SPP footprint. At this point, controlled service interruptions were now required to preserve the integrity of the electrical grid. The EEA Level 3 was the first Energy Emergency Alert of this magnitude and severity issued by the SPP in their 80-year history.
General Manager Tom Ruth, "Coordinated energy curtailments are the very last option. Had SPP and Sunflower not had contingency plans in place, there is a good chance the overloaded system would have resulted in cascading uncontrolled outages that may have lasted days."
Over the next 24 hours, several Western consumer-members experienced disruptions of service. Most outages lasted 30-60 minutes with very few complications with the power restorations. On February 16, SPP changed the EEA Level several times, but there were no more power interruptions for Western consumer-members.
"We appreciate the understanding of our members during this unprecedented situation," said Ruth. "SPP was waiting until the last minute to order mandatory curtailments. This is absolutely their last resort. These decisions are often made within a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds. Many times the situation would improve before it became critical, and we would avoid interruptions. While this approach saved us from additional outages, it made it very difficult to give affected members sufficient warning."
The EEA level continued to fluctuate between levels 1 and 2 until 9:30 a.m. on February 18, 2021, when the SPP rescinded all Energy Emergency Alerts. The Southwest Power Pool will remain in a period of conservative operations until 10:00 p.m. on February 20, 2021, due to the persistently high demand for natural gas and electricity.
Ruth said, "I cannot thank our members enough for their patience. We recognize the significant impact this has on businesses and families. Any length of service interruption during those weather conditions is something we do not take lightly. It is absolutely our last resort to prevent an uncontrolled cascading electrical outage of a greater magnitude"
Western Cooperative Electric Association is a member-owned cooperative headquartered in WaKeeney, Kansas. Established in 1945, Western now serves more than 12,000 meters and maintains over 4,000 miles of power lines across western and central Kansas. Together, with our members' help, Western Co-op is committed to building a stronger rural America. For more information about Western, visit www.westerncoop.com.