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Summer heat waves, high electricity costs cause energy cooperatives to issue peak energy alerts

While there is an expected electricity capacity shortfall this summer in north and central areas of the United States, local energy cooperatives are recommending people lower energy consumption to keep electricity prices low.

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A People's Energy Cooperative crew installs power lines near a solar array in Haverhill Township in 2020.
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An increase in demand for electricity along with a decline in power generation could lead to an increase in power outages, especially as summer temperatures bring spikes in demand.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released its 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment in May that “identifies, assesses, and reports on areas of concern regarding the reliability of North American BPS for the upcoming summer season.”

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The United States and part of Canada are broken into six regions for NERC’s summer assessment. Minnesota is a part of a region that gets its energy from a power grid called the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).

Around 42 million people rely on MISO for electricity.

NERC’s assessment found that MISO will likely face an electricity capacity shortfall in its north and central areas, “resulting in high risk of energy emergencies during peak summer conditions.”

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Part of what is causing the potential energy emergencies is a 1.7% increase in demand since last summer combined with a 2.3% decrease in electricity generation capacity. The north and central regions are particularly vulnerable because of low wind conditions, extreme temperatures and higher generation outages.

States at high risk for being affected by the fall in MISO electricity capacity are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Louisiana.

Four energy cooperatives in Minnesota issued a peak energy alert from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21, 2022. Members of the four cooperatives – Freeborn-Mower Electric, MiEnergy, People’s Energy and Heartland Power – were advised to reduce their electricity consumption during this period of time.

According to Gwen Stevens, the director of cooperative relations for People’s Energy Cooperative, the 2022 Summer NERC report covers consumer electricity demand, and in this case, the inability to meet the projected demand while energy alerts are usually issued because the cost of resources needed to provide energy are increasing.

“When we do have a peak energy alert, it’s truly trying to reduce demand to reduce the cost of energy,” Stevens said. “What that NERC report is calling a max gen event, which means maximum generation, meaning even with all their resources online, the system can’t produce or generate enough electricity to keep up with the demand.”

With seasonal temperatures about 40-50% higher than normal in southern Minnesota, peak electricity demand is expected to be higher as temperature directly influences demand, according to the NERC report.

“Temperature plays a huge role,” Stevens said. “When we see our spikes in energy consumption and demand is when it’s really really hot out or when it’s really really cold out.”

According to Kent Whitcomb, the vice president of member services for MiEnergy Cooperative, the co-op usually issues 12 energy alerts each year: nine during the summer and three during the winter.

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Energy alerts are more commonly issued during the extreme weather seasons because people are spending more time at home, and therefore are more likely to be running more appliances or running their air conditioners, Whitcomb said.

Following the recommendations in an energy alert can play a big role in keeping electricity rates down, according to Whitcomb.

Easy methods people can use to become more energy efficient is keeping their thermostats around 78 degrees, not running major appliances like laundry machines during the time period of the alert, turning off lights and charging electric vehicles at night as opposed to during the day, Stevens said.

“Those are things that people can do at the moment when something’s happening to help reduce,” Stevens said.

Xcel Energy recommends its users save energy and keep their electricity bills low this week with temperatures in the upper 90s by keeping curtains drawn to keep out heat, use fans instead of air conditioning, keep air conditioner coils cleaned and maintained, and upgrade your thermostat.

“People need to understand that there is a limit to the amount of electricity out there and to just make sure that we’re all doing our part to help keep the load low,” Stevens said. “It’s just important that everyone takes it seriously and does what they can to help reduce load during those times of high demand.”

Bella Carpentier is a journalism and political science student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC). She is currently the managing editor of the student-run paper at UMN-TC, the Minnesota Daily. While reporting for the Minnesota Daily, she covered student activism and issues affecting the university's student body. Working for the Post Bulletin, Bella hopes to build community connections and advance her reporting skills. Readers can reach Bella at bcarpentier@postbulletin.com.
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