Rolling blackouts a possibility this summer for North Dakota

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 5:06 PM CDT
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WILLISTON, N.D. (KUMV) - The country’s power grids will be tested this summer as some utilities are facing energy generation shortfalls, which could lead to rolling blackouts. This could also affect people in North Dakota.

While North Dakota’s utility companies are meeting the demand for daily energy production, customers could experience rolling blackouts due to others not meeting customer demand. That’s because most utilities in the state are part of a larger system operator that covers several states.

Most of the power generated throughout North Dakota is collected and spread evenly throughout two systems: The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) or the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

During its annual auction, officials with MISO warned that the system would not have enough resources to meet their peak demand this summer.

North Dakota Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said that means rolling blackouts would occur during a worst-case scenario, such as high demand combined with lower-than-expected generation.

“The only way to manage that is to reduce the demand, or shed the load, which basically means that some customers lose power on a rolling basis. That would happen throughout the MISO territory,” said Fedorchak.

While Fedorchak predicts the odds are very low, she and other commissioners have been meeting with local utilities to discuss that possibility. Hospitals and other commercial facilities with backup generators could be powered down to help stabilize residential customers.

“In a case where demand would be pushing its limit, we can call on them to take them off our system and they would go to their backup,” said Mark Hanson, spokesperson for Montana-Dakota Utilities.

There are several factors as to why the rolling blackouts are a possibility. Fedorchak said one of the main reasons is due to coal generating units retiring faster than they can be replaced. As officials look towards moving to renewable energy sources, Fedorchak said the pace of replacement needs to be managed very carefully.

“When you’re dependent on the weather for generating the electricity and have less dispatchable, you’re going to have tighter markets and you’re going to have times where you have a greater threat of having to have rolling blackouts,” said Fedorchak

MISO is considered to be a “High Risk” of energy shortfalls according to a report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation due to ongoing drought conditions and increased demand.

The report also labels the Southwest Power Pool at an “Elevated risk” as drought conditions along the Missouri River Basin could reduce generation from their thermal generators.

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