Regional Power Grid Manager: More Planned Outages Possible Wednesday And Thursday

Feb 17, 2021

Officials from the Southwest Power Pool, the regional transmission organization that manages the power grid for a territory covering parts of 14 states, including all of Oklahoma, said Tuesday afternoon that more outages could be possible through Thursday.

"If we survive tonight without having to direct further curtailments and interruptions of service, we could be back in this tomorrow," said Lanny Nickell, SPP chief operating officer, at a Tuesday afternoon virtual press availability.

"We are thinking that we could very much be in and out of this situation through tomorrow evening. Hopefully by Thursday we can get out of this, and we feel a lot better about Friday," Nickell said.

Nickell said SPP's order to member utilities to start cutting service was unprecedented in the company's history, but that they had predicted major weather impacts and started planning on Feb. 8th.

"It was in a lot of forecasts. We knew this was coming, and we began to work to prepare for it as best we could over a week ago," Nickell said. "We have worked closely with power suppliers and our utility operators within our region to make sure that generation is available to meet the forecasted peak consumption, which we knew and fully expected to occur yesterday and today."

"Despite these efforts and despite these plans, the severe weather that we experienced, the limited fuel supply that we began to observe and experience, began to hamper our ability to balance the supply we had available to us with the demand from consumers."

SPP President and CEO Barbara Sugg said as frustrating as these outages have been and may continue to be, they're a better option than the alternative.

"We simply have to continuously balance power supply and demand, and we also have to keep the transmission infrastructure operating within the safe limits that it's designed for to prevent uncontrolled and cascading outages from occurring, which would be much, much more devastating than anything that we've seen this week," Sugg said.

Sugg said voluntary reduction in power use by customers had also played a role in reducing the severity of the blackouts so far.

"There is no doubt in my mind that these outages would have been much, much more significant had it not been for individual customers, businesses, industries doing what they can to reduce the load," Sugg said. "So we're not out of the woods yet. We need that conservation to continue. It absolutely makes a difference."

Sugg said the common criticism that outages come with little or no notice to consumers is essentially by design.

"We're waiting 'til the last minute because we have to wait 'til the last minute," Sugg said. "We don't want to cut people preemptively. If there's a way to avoid it then we're going to avoid it, it's just that there's a lot of moving parts and it does change by the second."

Asked by a reporter why the states within the SPP footprint are faring better than Texas, which has had widespread, prolonged outages for millions of residents struggling to survive frigid temperatures, Sugg said it's because of the pool's regional structure.

"We're benefited by the fact that it is spread across such a huge area, that we don't have to take a city the size of Kansas City and black them out for three hours. We are able to spread that," she said.

Mike Ross, senior vice president of government affairs and public relations, was asked by a reporter about comments from an elected official in Kansas who pointed toward reliance on wind-generated power as the cause of the past week's grid issues.

"Basically, we're fuel-agnostic," Ross said. "We facilitate the wholesale electric market. We don't pick the winners and losers -- the market does. In fact, we have a very diverse fuel supply. About a third of our energy comes from wind, about a third comes from coal, and a third comes from natural gas."

"We just have to keep in mind as we try to respond to those questions about certain fuels and the availability of generation that relies on those fuels and how much we should actually count on when we need it, we have to understand that these events are very, very, very rare, and we have to be reasonable in terms of our expectations," Nickell added.