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Utility companies planning ahead after winter blast, point to Southwest Power Pool

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 11:00 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska got some much-needed good news after a week of intense cold, freezing much of the Midwest and even the south, so much so that it caused rolling blackouts.

Between the situation here in the middle of the country and in Texas itself, the energy supply during extreme weather events has been in the spotlight and a climate.

Though the threat of outages in our area has greatly diminished, a climate expert says the entire country can learn from the experience.

“I think every state and every system should really be taking a close look at how they’re playing their systems to make sure that it accounts for climate change,” expert Michael Craig said.

Texas government officials said their rolling outages strategy saved its system which was just moments away from a catastrophic blackout that could’ve had an impact for weeks or even months.

So, are utilities here using this week’s experience to look to the future? The answer is yes, but in order for them to address future planning, the Southwest power pool must be factored in.

The Southwest Power Pool is a system comprised of 14 states that share an electric grid and Nebraska is right in the middle.

NPPD President Tom Kent says that works to our advantage in many cases.

“One of our strengths is that we have a very diverse resource mix.”

The Southwest Power Pool offers fuel energy production through coal, wind, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar and more, so Kent says when it comes to energy production, Nebraska absolutely has a diverse portfolio.

And as a northern utility NPPD is more prepared than others to handle harsh winters, but during the arctic freeze that swept through the midwest, some of the other states in SPP needed Nebraska’s help to conserve energy, since the state’s work together.

And that’s where Kent says, there’s an opportunity to learn. “We need to take a hard look at how we winterize power plants all across the region. How we make sure we have adequate fuel supply,” he said.

Kent added that southern utilities will have to shift their focus on where and how their energy is supplied so they’re not putting all their eggs into one basket.

The Nebraska Public Power District team is already looking toward the future, meeting with board members, customers, and other stakeholders to stay prepared.

“From a resource planning standpoint, that’s really us here in Nebraska. Finding the right resource mix to serve our customers economically, reliably and how we interact with other utilities around us.” Kent outlined.

The same goes for OPPD CEO Tim Burke, who said he’s putting Omaha Public Power District under the microscope.

“We’re gonna do an after-action review and we’re starting that process by engaging our enterprise risk management team and our business continuity improvement team,” Burke stated.

He also said OPPD began preparing for the winter blast well before it hit, which is why outages in the Omaha-metro weren’t more severe.

As Burke continues to develop preventative measures, he agrees much of that future planning has to do with how others in SPP prepare, essentially, Nebraska is only as strong as our weakest link.

“There are going to be a lot of cooks in this kitchen including folks from the department of energy. The federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be apart of this and many more. We’re also crafting a letter between the CEO’s of the Nebraska utilities to send to SPP saying ‘we want a seat at the table’ as you begin to do your after-action review and a deep dive on the root causes and issues on what we need to be doing differently,” Burke stated.

Those after-action reports on how OPPD handled the winter blast will eventually be available to the public. It’ll take a few months to be completed but Burke and Kent said they were extremely proud of not only their teams but their customers, for the immediate response and action when Nebraska was called to conserve energy.

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