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When a mid-May heatwave hit Jo-Carroll Energy’s service territory, dormant air conditioners weren’t the only things being put to the test as record heat melted the region. It is a scenario we expect to see repeated as above normal temperatures are forecast again.

The May event caused the regional electric grid, managed by MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator), to be strained with high electricity demand and limited generation resources. On May 12, MISO declared a Maximum Generation (Max Gen) Warning. MISO uses Max Gen procedures to help address grid constraints. In some circumstances, system conditions during a Max Gen scenario will call for electricity demand reduction measures, such as the use of our load management program. JCE worked closely with wholesale power provider, Dairyland Power Cooperative, to be prepared in case there was a need to reduce the cooperative’s electricity demand.

“Although there was no call [from MISO] to shed load outside of normal daily energy management programs, plans were being put in place to reduce demand if needed,” said Ben Porath, Dairyland Power Cooperative’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Depending on the weather and available generation resources, we could have quickly advanced to a Max Gen Event and, possibly, needed to implement our load management resources to achieve load reduction.”

“Every Max Gen Warning or Event scenario is unique. We must react to emergency grid conditions in a real-time manner and may have to call upon our members to start reducing their electricity demand at a moment’s notice,” said Mike Casper, JCE president and CEO. “Using our load management program for this purpose ensures we can quickly reduce demand to avoid overloading generation resources. This use of load management is different than non-emergency full load control events which help avoid purchasing power during the most expensive times of the summer or winter. Using load management for Max Gen purposes supports grid reliability by reducing our electricity demand to levels that can be met by available generation resources. If demand exceeds what the grid can fulfill, rolling blackouts can occur.”

Experiencing a Max Gen Warning so early in the season could be a sign of things to come. A press release from MISO in late April and the short-term outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration this spring warn of an expected shortage of available generation resources during peak electricity demand this summer.

Some key reasons for the projected shortfall include:

  • Higher, volatile natural gas prices in the United States
  • Coal-fired and nuclear power plant retirements outpacing the installation of new generation resources 
  • A significant amount of new generation resources coming online are wind and solar, which are intermittent and not always available when needed
  • Electricity consumption continues to return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic patterns, increasing in the commercial and industrial sectors.

JT Smith, MISO’s executive director – market operations, said a 2022 seasonal assessment indicates about a 5-gigawatt (GW) deficit between an expected peak forecast of 124 GW vs. 119 GW of expected “regularly available generation.” For comparison, 1 GW is 1,000 megawatts (MW) of power or 1 million kilowatts (kW), which is approximately the size of the entire Dairyland Power system. Dairyland’s 24 member cooperatives serve 284,000 homes and businesses in a four-state region.

This deficit leaves MISO’s North and Central regions – the regions where Dairyland’s member cooperatives serve – at an increased risk of rolling blackouts to help keep the grid online.

JCE participates in annual drills Dairyland runs with its members to prepare for a potential rolling blackout event. To-date, load reduction measures have not reached the point of load shedding – including during the February 2021 Polar Vortex where Texas and other states did endure rolling blackouts and partial grid failures. Dairyland’s System Operations Center also works closely with MISO to ensure the power grid remains stable and reliable each day.

“Our System Operators are in daily contact with MISO to understand where power needs are and how Dairyland’s resources can best support the regional grid,” Porath said. “We can’t control the weather or other generation resources, but we do take maintenance and preparedness of our own generation stations as seriously as we do safety.”

“The fact is, we are facing the possibility of power shortages this summer, but participation from members in the Summer Shift program or with an eligible device in our load management program can help reduce demand during the highest electricity peaks and aid our ability to keep the lights on and costs under control,” Casper said.