Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives

Some Iowa electric cooperatives implemented unprecedented measures to reduce demand during extreme cold weather

February 16, 2021

Utilities across the Midwest, including several local electric cooperatives in western and north-central Iowa, implemented load control measures and temporary service disruptions to some meters on Feb. 15 and 16. These highly unusual control measures were needed to protect the supply and demand balance of the electric grid as electric demand exceeded available supply because of extremely cold weather impacting the region over several days.

Many electric utilities across the country are members of one of nine regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs), also referred to as power pools. These federally regulated entities work on a regional scale to coordinate, control and monitor supply and demand on the electric grid. RTOs do not own the power grid, but they do work as “air-traffic controllers” of the grid to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitive wholesale electricity prices on behalf of their members. Most Iowa electric utilities are members of one of two RTOs: Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).

SPP issued unprecedented Emergency Energy Alert (EEA) Level 2 and Level 3 orders to its member utilities across several states on Monday and Tuesday, calling for high levels of electric load reduction/curtailment to match available supply. 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. To put it simply, there was not enough available generation/supply to meet this exceptionally high electric demand.

Utilities that are members of the Southwest Power Pool, including several Iowa electric distribution cooperatives served by Corn Belt Power Cooperative, L&O Power Cooperative and Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO), needed to shed specific amounts of electric load at particular times to maintain a safe and functional electric grid under the EEA Level 2 and Level 3 orders. RTOs have authority to manage supply and demand on a regional level. The SPP outages that affected some Iowans were part of a larger electric load management effort that impacted several states in the Midwest.

SPP directed its member utilities to shed electric load in a controlled process as part of its EEA orders. SPP issued the orders to prevent a damaging system-wide blackout which would take days to restore. EEA Level 3 orders are extremely rare and are only implemented when absolutely necessary. In fact, these are the first Level 2 and Level 3 orders issued in the organization’s history.

SPP load curtailment requirements are set differently for each member utility on a pro rata basis. NIPCO was able to meet its load curtailment requirements through voluntary load control programs and measures that did not include service disruptions for its distribution cooperative member systems. Corn Belt Power Cooperative controlled water heaters and instituted temporary power disruptions to meet its SPP requirements; Approximately 1,500 meters were offline on Monday for about 45 minutes and approximately 12,500 meters were offline anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours at various times on Tuesday to meet the load shed requirements. L&O Power Cooperative utilized load management measures and also curtailed power to approximately 1,000 meters for about an hour on Tuesday.

These outages occurred with almost no advanced warning as SPP manages electric supply and demand minute-by-minute in real time. Local electric distribution cooperatives served by Corn Belt Power Cooperative had minutes to curtail specific electric load levels as they complied with Level 3 orders. When possible, electric utilities work to avoid interrupting service to critical facilities.

Consumers can help by decreasing energy use during these extreme circumstances. Set your home’s thermostat to 65 degrees or lower if possible. Stagger your appliance use. Avoid or limit your hot water use. Use smaller appliances to cook food. If you experience an electric outage as part of an EEA Level 3 outage, your power should be restored within a specified amount of time. Follow your co-op on Facebook, visit your co-op’s website or call your co-op to verify that your outage is part of an EEA Level 3 interruption. View a real-time map of Iowa electric cooperative outages at www.iowarec.org/outages.

If you have a portable generator, test it before an outage occurs and make sure it has a manual or automatic transfer switch. During an outage, do not use candles as they pose a fire hazard. Check on elderly neighbors and those who made need assistance. During prolonged cold-weather outages, open faucets slightly so they drip to help prevent pipes from freezing.

About Iowa’s Electric Cooperatives:
Owned and governed by the member-consumers they serve, Iowa’s community-focused electric cooperatives power the lives of 650,000 Iowans throughout all 99 counties and are committed to delivering power that is safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible. Built by the communities they serve, Iowa’s electric co-ops have also invested heavily in local economic development for decades.

The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC) is a trade association established to support the interests of member-owned electric cooperatives, including 38 distribution co-ops and nine generation and transmission co-ops. Formed in 1942, IAEC aims to unify and empower Iowa’s electric cooperatives through legislative representation, regulatory oversight, training and education services, safety programs, communications support and advocacy. Learn more at www.iowarec.org.

For More Information:

For more information, contact:

Erin Campbell, IAEC director of communications

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