Stable Rates and Growth Continues
The United States desperately needs a true energy policy. A policy that allows the U.S. to meet their own needs with the energy we have right here at home. I believe strongly in an "all-of-the-above" generation philosophy. This truly means using all the generation sources we have at our disposal, as there IS NOT one silver bullet that solves all the energy needs issues. Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative's (YVEC's) largest power supplier, Basin Power Electric Cooperative (Basin), produced an article that discussed their generation portfolio and how it takes all the very diverse sources at their discretion to serve their customers, like YVEC.
The power Basin Electric uses to serve its member load obligations comes from many different sources, including coal, renewables, natural gas, water (hydroelectricity), oil, and recovered energy. Basin Electric also purchases power from the market. Because this resource portfolio is so diverse, the co-op's power supply is very reliable - if one source isn't producing, there are other options available to fill the gaps.
This winter was a prime example of why an all-of-the-above energy strategy is so important. In Texas, an extended cold snap brought high winds, icing conditions, and sustained periods of cold weather to much of that region. During a time when Texas (which has its own independent power grid) and many of its consumers were experiencing an all-time high member demand for energy, wind turbines were being shut off because extreme cold and ice compromises the integrity of the wind towers.
"It comes down to the brittleness of the towers," says John Jacobs, Basin Electric's Senior Vice President of Operations. "A good analogy would be to compare the tower to a rubber hose. If it gets too hot, it'll melt, and if it gets too cold the integrity of the tower is compromised, so the turbines must be shut off. They also have to be shut off when the winds are too high for the same reason."
Each wind tower has its own separate weather station for accuracy, which measures the temperature at that exact location - not a mile or more away or at the local airport. "That's why sometimes you'll see one turbine running and the one right next to it isn't," Jacob says.
During situations like this winter when it was not possible for the wind turbines to run, and yet the demand for energy was at an all-time high, coal-based generation, natural gas, and purchased power make up the difference. "We had to really keep our eye on the ball for the entire winter to make sure we had enough power to supply our members," says Dave Raatz, Senior Vice President of Basin Electric's Asset Management, Resource Planning, and Rates department. "People don't realize what it takes to economically balance supply and demand during events like this."
Specifically, on January 29th, Basin's total load was between 2,800 and 3,200 megawatts. The portfolio to serve that load was about 1,250 megawatts of wind, 1,250 megawatts of coal and the rest was natural gas and purchased power. By 1 am on the 30th, due to the cold temperatures, that generation portfolio changed entirely. There were zero megawatts of wind online, about 2,000 megawatts of coal, 1,000 megawatts of natural gas, and the rest consisted of purchased power.
Most people don't realize what it takes to maintain reliability on the power grid. They just want the lights to come on when they flip the switch, or their cell phone to charge when they plug it in. We all take electricity for granted, which is a really good thing, because it means we're doing our job. An all-of-the-above approach is what has provided the redundancies necessary to make sure our members continually have the reliability they need at the lowest possible cost.
Brandon J. Wittman
CEO / General Manager