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Extreme Cold Causing Rolling Blackouts in Texas; Emergency Alerts Issued Across U.S.

Feb. 15, 2021
'Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now.'

Severe winter weather across the United States this week has caused emergency declarations, power outages and hazardous road conditions. Nearly 170 million people are under winter weather advisories, according to a CNN report, while almost 3 million customers were without power as of early Monday morning.

A majority of the outages were in Texas, with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) calling for rotating outages as it "entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m." About 10,500 MW of customer load was shed at the highest point, ERCOT reported. This is enough power to serve approximately two million homes.

Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable. There is now over 30,000 MW of generation forced off the system.

"Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness.

Rotating outages will likely last throughout the morning and could be initiated until this weather emergency ends.

Midcontinent Independent System Operator

Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) South Region also reported that severe weather has contributed to the loss of generation and transmission. This has led to emergency actions in the region’s western portion to avoid a larger power outage on the bulk electric system.  Periodic power outages began early Monday morning for some customers in Southeast Texas.

"We fully committed every available operating asset before the event to lessen the impact on our system, but conditions eventually deteriorated to a point where demand exceeded supply,” said Renuka Chatterjee, executive director – System Operations at MISO. “The accelerated change in conditions led us to our last resort in order to maintain grid reliability and we are in direct communication with our members to support their restoration efforts in the affected areas.”

MISO and its members worked together to identify the worst-case scenarios to limit the effects of temporary power supply interruptions to those areas that will provide the most relief. That plan focused on the forecasted load demand and expert weather forecast as well as the risks associated with generation availability and transmission capacity across the region.

“This was truly a coordinated effort with all of our members to avoid a potentially larger grid outage,” said Daryl Brown, executive director – South Region at MISO.  “We are in direct communication with our members in the affected area to support their restoration efforts.”

Southwest Power Pool

Southwest Power Pool also issued a new energy emergency alert Monday morning due to extreme cold. The weather has created energy deficiencies in the region, SPP said.

An EEA Level 2 requires SPP to direct its member companies to issue public conservation appeals. This EEA2 alert will remain in effect until further notice to mitigate the risk of more widespread and longer-lasting outages.

An EEA2 is the second of three EEA levels. An EEA3 would be triggered if SPP has to utilize operating reserves below the required minimum or ask our members to implement controlled service interruptions.

SPP declared a period of conservative operations for its entire balancing authority area at midnight central time on Feb. 9. Then, on Feb. 14, it declared an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 1 effective at 5 a.m. central time on Monday, Feb. 15. 

The declaration of conservative operations signaled to SPP’s member company utility operators that they should operate conservatively to mitigate the risk of worsening conditions. To bolster system reliability, SPP may require generating units to be available for upcoming operating days with notifications for commitment issued multiple days in advance. SPP took these steps in preparation for the extreme weather conditions already experienced and expected over the next couple of days.

An EEA1 signaled that SPP foresees or is experiencing conditions where all available resources are scheduled to meet firm load obligations and that we may be unable to sustain its required contingency reserves.

Operating conditions may continue to tighten over the next several days because of this widespread and extreme cold winter weather event, as well as an inadequate supply of natural gas required to power some gas-powered electric generation units. SPP is coordinating closely with its members and market participants to respond to high electricity demand and ensure the power grid remains reliable.

Cooperatives, Utilities in Southern Missouri and Arkansas

In Southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, several thousand lost power Monday morning during the dangerous cold weather.

White River Valley Electric Cooperative reported 2,800 outages in Stone County, Missouri. at its peak Monday morning. That added up to about 20% without electricity in the county. SWEPCO and Carroll County Electric reported a combined 3,000 customers without power. North Arkansas Electric reported around 1,500 customers without power in Fulton County.

White River Electric, Springfield’s City Utilities, North Arkansas Electric and Liberty Utilities all asked customers to conserve energy when possible due to limited supply of natural gas amid frigid weather. The power suppliers say natural gas has reached peak demand during the cold snap. Natural gas wells are freezing in southwest Missouri, leading to limited supply.

PJM Prepared

PJM issued a Cold Weather Alert for the ComEd region for Feb. 14, and for the entire Western region for Feb. 15, amid a frigid weather forecast.

A Cold Weather Alert prepares personnel and facilities for expected extreme cold weather conditions, when actual temperatures fall near or below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Western region in PJM includes the following transmission zones and control areas:

  • American Electric Power (AEP Ohio, Appalachian Power, Indiana Michigan Power and Kentucky Power)
  • American Municipal Power Transmission
  • ComEd
  • Cleveland Public Power
  • Dayton Power & Light
  • Duke Energy Ohio and Duke Energy Kentucky
  • Duquesne Light Company
  • East Kentucky Power Cooperative
  • FirstEnergy – former Allegheny Power Systems (West Penn Power, Mon Power, Potomac Edison)
  • FirstEnergy – former American Transmission Systems, Inc. (Penn Power, Ohio Edison, The Illuminating Company and Toledo Edison)
  • ITC Interconnection, LLC
  • Ohio Valley Electric Corporation

This Cold Weather Alert comes on the heels of similar alerts issued earlier in the week for the same general areas.

Transmission and generation owners must take extra care to maintain equipment, so that it does not freeze. During a Cold Weather Alert, PJM may also cancel or postpone planned maintenance outages in order to ensure availability of sufficient resources.

PJM’s forecasted winter peak demand is around 136,000 MW, and expects to have 186,000 MW of resources available to meet it. PJM’s all-time winter peak record of 143,434 MW was set on Feb. 20, 2015.

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