Grid Resiliency & Power Reliability

Colorado’s Evolving Energy Landscape – April 2021 CCL CEO Article

By Jim Herron, MVEA CEO

The ice from the mid-February storm will have melted by the time you read this article, but the conversations about the polar outbreak that caused historically low temperatures and stressed both the electric generating capacity and the ability of the transmission grid to move power in many regions of the country will continue far into the future. The scope and size of the power outages and rolling blackouts that impacted millions of people throughout 14 states have resulted in calls for change and questions about the impact of renewable energy dependence on grid resiliency and reliability during periods of high demand.

The U.S. power grid has been called the single largest and most complex piece of technology ever built by mankind. When people across the country flip on the switch to turn on a light first thing in the morning, that power is the product of a complex network of sensitive electric generators and tens of thousands of miles of electrical lines working together to ensure that enough electricity is available when we want it in a blink of an eye. A key factor in meeting the energy needs so essential to our quality of life is balancing electricity supply with demand. Just as important as having a resilient grid and balancing energy supply and demand, especially in times of unprecedented demand, is having an energy mix that can produce enough power under any condition.

While Mountain View Electric Association’s power supply was not directly impacted by the February storm, members have reached out with a concern that what happened in Texas and surrounding states could happen here. As a distribution cooperative, we work in partnership with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, our wholesale power supplier to provide safe and reliable electricity to our co-op members. While MVEA does not generate the power that we distribute, we do have emergency service interruption protocols in place and work diligently throughout the year to maintain and build our distribution infrastructure. From substations to distribution lines, system upgrades and maintenance are completed throughout the year to help ensure our infrastructure is resilient enough to provide reliable power through rain or shine.

It should be a point of pride that while Tri-State did have some challenges during the February storm due to underperforming wind generation and natural gas infrastructure, their emergency protocols, current energy mix, and strategic power partnerships minimized the impact of the storm on their generation and transmission capabilities.

“In the Western grid, where we serve members in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, our transmission system and generating resources, including our coal and combustion turbines, performed well. Our participation in the Southwest Power Pool’s Western Energy Imbalance Service, which began February 1, served its role to efficiently utilize transmission in Colorado and Wyoming, and dispatch the lowest-cost resources,” shared Tri-State CEO, Duane Highley, while providing a debrief to the distribution co-ops that Tri-State serves.

Near misses are golden opportunities to prevent future challenges. The February storm was a near miss across the utility industry. While we were fortunate, millions of other Americans faced a harsh reality during those blackouts and prolonged outages. Our grid is complex and relies on a network of partnerships. While Colorado’s energy landscape is evolving, I am hopeful that this storm will serve as a reminder that the grid is most reliable when there is a diverse energy mix to keep it resilient.

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