Energy use across plains states leads to consumption concerns in South Dakota

Local electricity providers say further blackouts possible but not likely

RAPID CITY, S.D. — As unprecedented cold sweeps across the Midwest and Southern Plains, energy consumption has reached a new high, forcing power providers into temporary blackouts to build back energy reserves.

Southwest Power Pool, or SPP, provides service for 17 central and western states from the Canadian border through Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Service is then divvied by region. Serving West River Electric Association and other Western South Dakota energy distributors is the Western Area Power Administration.


Courtesy: SPP

At peak energy usage Tuesday morning, SPP issued a ‘Level 3 Energy Emergency Alert.’ According to SPP’s Facebook page, this means “system-wide generating capacity has dropped below our current load”, warranting interruptions of electric service across the entire service area, including WAPA.

Dick Johnson, CEO and General Manager of West River Electric, explains the service disruptions in South Dakota are caused by a disruption in energy production further south. He says wind turbines were either frozen or lacked wind to produce energy, turning needs to natural gas, which is already strained in the cold.

“The issue they’re running into is the natural gas supply is diminished all over from here south because of the call for heat and also for electric generation so supply is not meeting demand,” said Johnson. “So, they didn’t have the generation available that would’ve made up where wind was unable to be used.”

SPP has since come down to a Level 1 Alert now that, “all available resource have been committed to meet obligations,” and there is no longer a risk of not meeting required operating reserves at the present time. They go on to say that their, “forecasts anticipate that due to high load and persistent cold weather, it is likely the system will fluctuate between energy emergency alert levels over the next 48 hours.”

The fluctuation is what caused a brief outage in the Weston Heights substation early Tuesday morning. Dick Johnson, CEO and General Manager of West River Electric, says no notice was given to the sudden outage.

“[SPP] told our transmission provider, which is Western Area Power [Administration], or WAPA, that they needed to shed a certain amount of load so, WAPA put their emergency plan into place and shut off various points through the North Dakota, South Dakota area,” said Johnson.

Johnson says Weston Heights substation was chosen for the shut off. Service stopped at 6:30AM, saving about eight megawatts over 50 minutes, affecting just under 3,000 WREA members north of Rapid City, in Piedmont and Tilford. He says several substations east and north of the Rapid City area were shut off as well to conserve energy. Butte Electric Cooperate, Inc. was also affected, causing a five – 15 minute outage for customers in Belle Fourche, Newell, Arpan, and Indian Creek. Black Hills Electric Co-op is asking customers to be prepared for outages. Monday afternoon, Lacreek Electric Association put out a notice for potential rolling blackouts in their district.

Black Hills Energy says they do not anticipate rolling black outs as their energy supply is not a part of SPP. Montana Dakota Utilities Co. has echoed the same. 

While Johnson doesn’t expect any more black outs, he says they can’t be ruled out until temperatures across the SPP area can begin to warm back up.

“It could happen again, if for some reason we lose a major generation plant or a major transmission line,” said Johnson. “We could end up in the same situation where our reserves aren’t enough to meet the demand, but I don’t expect that at this point.”

SPP continues to urge everyone to limit their energy consumption at work and at home, and to follow local utility’s directions for conservation and potential outages.

For tips on how to conserve energy, visit here.

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