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Commentary: Electricity shortages projected this summer, including Alexandria area

The following commentary was submitted to the newspaper for the Opinion page. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By Ted Cash, general manager of ALP Utilities, Alexandria, MN

With summer on the way, I wanted to discuss an issue that has been in national media recently concerning the potential for electric service interruptions across the Midwest, including Alexandria.

Projections of energy shortages during the summer of 2022 have been made by both the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). MISO is an independent, not-for-profit organization that its members and their customers, like ALP, count on to generate and transmit the right amount of electricity every minute of every day.

However, with warmer-than-normal temperatures forecasted throughout the MISO footprint, the summer peak electrical needs are projected to be 124 gigawatts (GW), while
projected available generation is only 119 GW.

The risk of electricity shortages is not unique to the MISO service area. Traditional power plants across the U.S. are being retired, or taken-out-of-service due to environmental concerns, more quickly than they can be replaced by renewable energy. Intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar farms, are not always available and other dispatchable resources must be called upon to ramp up quickly to meet electric demand.

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For example, during Winter Storm Uri in 2021, there was very little wind or solar power available throughout the Midwest or South Central U.S. To make things worse, the frigid temperatures caused some coal and natural gas power plants in the southern states to become unavailable. One of ALP's power suppliers, Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) was called upon to run all of its fossil fuel generators, including the diesel generators of six individual members located in the Southwest Power Pool footprint.

The fossil fuel generation supported the electrical reliability of the region, but even so, many municipal utilities and Ural electric cooperatives, including four MRES members, were ordered to take outages (service interruptions) because there simply wasn't enough power in the region to supply everyone's needs.

Work is currently being done to develop large-scale battery storage solutions, but most batteries can only provide 4-8 hours of power production. MRES and its partner, MidAmerican Energy Company, are studying a pumped storage hydroelectric project, which would act as a huge battery storing intermittent renewable energy until it is needed when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining. These solutions take time and the pace may not be fast enough to meet the short-term needs we are facing today.

MISO is closely monitoring the many challenges this summer season may bring. They are coordinating with member utilities like ALP and other grid operators to arrange electrical imports from neighboring regions and preparing to call upon emergency resources to meet the 2022 summer peak demand. This may mean that ALP and other members in the MISO footprint will be called upon to run their local generation.

It may even mean that members will be asked to reduce electrical consumption or take outages to support the reliability of the grid.

MRES will work closely with MISO, the local transmission operators in MISO, and SPP to provide members with as much notice as possible of actions required by these system operators during any potential Energy Emergency Alert (EEA).

While MRES, ALP, and the entire electric industry are trying to find ways to create a cleaner energy future and utilize renewable resources, we must make sure we don't let go of dispatchable generation that provides reliability. Keeping the lights on is our top priority.

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The following is a commentary for the Opinion that was submitted to the newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
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