Authored by: Richard Fowler
In February 2021, bills covered the extreme cold spell that had all utilities in the Midwest and Texas scrambling to find power to keep the lights on. Evergy (previously KCP&L), the City of Springfield, Arkansas utilities, and the state of Texas were just some of the utilities that had rolling blackouts.
The electric cooperatives in Missouri have very robust and diversified sources of power and we did not expose our members to any rolling blackouts. Of all of our sources of power, coal proved to be the most reliable and the most cost effective. With coal, we keep a 30-60 day supply of coal right next to the coal plant so coal fuel is always there. With natural gas, you can’t store it, so it’s a just in time fuel delivery and at peak times natural gas was in short supply. So, natural gas was less dependable, and because it was in short supply, some of it turned out to be very, very expensive. Wind was unreliable. In fact, on our peak, during the coldest days, wind was almost non-existent, so with coal and gas units running all out, we were forced to purchase this extremely high-priced gas generated electricity from other parts of the country. The competition for that electricity was fierce. I am very proud of Associated’s employees performance during this time and you should be too. We really do have a generation cooperative that has shined in the toughest of times.
So why are we seeing all of these rolling blackouts when the weather gets cold? We’ve had cold weather in the past and not seen all these rolling blackouts.
MISO is an RTO that manages the grid across 15 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. Most of the states they cover are in the Midwest and it includes Missouri, although our generation cooperative has chosen to work independent of MISO. So, MISO has a very large footprint. MISO in the recent past has retired 15,000 MW of coal fired power plants and added 18,000 MW of wind.
From past cold weather events MISO has learned that hardly any of this wind power can be counted on at peak times, (2.5% in 2019). Compare that to coal which is running 100% at peak times. Its not just MISO that is closing coal plants and adding wind, SPP which covers 17 states has done the same and yes, they also were exposed to rolling blackouts.
Texas had the most rolling blackouts and there were many reasons for their problems, but SPP and MISO did not fail in maintenance of their plants and yet rolling blackouts still occurred.
This is an unfortunate reminder of the importance of fuel diversity and the role the nations coal fleet still serves in supporting a reliable and affordable electric grid.
Nine years from now the following coal plants are currently scheduled to be closed in the Midwest:
Burlington Generating Station – Iowa – closing 2021
Edwards Generating Plant – Illinois – closing 2022
Sherburne County Plant – Minnesota – closing 2022, 2025, 2030
North Omaha Station – Nebraska – closing 2023
Meramec Power Plant – Missouri – closing 2024
Baldwin Energy Station – Illinois – closing 2025
Big Cajun – Louisiana – closing 2025
Northeastern Station – Oklahoma – closing 2026
Belle River – Michigan – closing 2029, 2030
White Bluff – Arkansas – closing 2030
Independence Steam Station – Arkansas – closing 2030
This is a total of 13,503 MW of coal plants, more than double the size
of our Associated Electric Cooperative’s peak load. Much of this load is being replaced by wind.
So fast forward to 2030. Let’s say its January 14th and the temperature once again falls to -10° through out much of the Midwest. What do you think is going to happen?
Little by little, the day to day management of our nations electrical grid is being taken out of the hands of the experts who built it, and is being placed into the hands of the politicians and lobbyist who often have an agenda that does not necessarily equate to affordable or reliable electrical power.
Overly aggressive targets for removing fossil fuels from the generation mix and increasing the use of intermittent renewable sources puts our members at risk for these increasing energy costs, and unfortunately, a less reliable grid.