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    Hotter weather, growing demand could mean rolling blackouts across the Midwest this summer, according to reports


    June 3, 2022 - Corrinne Hess, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

     

      Potentially dangerous blackouts across the Midwest are possible this summer due to hotter weather, growing demand for power and the retirement of coal-fueled power plants, according to a recent report.

      Wisconsin and the Midwest face a "high risk" of energy emergencies under extreme conditions between June and September, according to the report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a Georgia-based regulatory authority.

      Meanwhile, the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), an organization that oversees the flow of electricity across Wisconsin as well as 14 other states and the Canadian province of Manitoba, also issued a warning that "peak demand" for energy could happen this summer.

      MISO is conducting worst-case scenario training exercises with its members. If unplanned outages do occur MISO could require utilities to take action to maintain grid reliability.

      "Our members provide us with the details to determine our operational needs and we anticipate tight operating conditions this summer based on their insights," said Jessica Lucas, MISO's executive director of system operations.

      MISO will have 3.2 gigawatts less power capacity than it had in the summer of 2021 due in large part to retiring coal plants, according to the NERC report. The region is also expected to have a small uptick in demand.

      But Wisconsin's largest utility, We Energies, says the situation isn't as dire as the report suggests because the state has excess power generation capacity.

      Brendan Conway, spokesman for We Energies, said MISO requires the utilities to meet customers' peak usage plus a reserve margin, which is approximately 10%.

      "For the upcoming summer, if there are periods of prolonged hot weather coupled with generator outages, there is an increased risk that MISO may call for more energy imports from its neighbors or even call upon customers with interruptible load," Conway said.

      "If MISO orders a capacity emergency this summer, we would ask all customers to temporarily reduce their energy usage to avoid rolling blackouts."

      Still, Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, said even with Wisconsin utilities having sufficient generation available, we're all in this regional grid together - and problems in other parts of the Midwest could lead utilities to ask Wisconsin customers to cut energy use to help out.

      "Large customers that pay discounted electricity rates are doing so as 'interruptible customers' giving the utility the ability to have them curtail their operations on hot days when supplies in MISO are tight," Content said.

      "So it's possible that big manufacturers and paper mills could be called on to help make sure there isn't a problem."

      Wisconsin hasn't run into supply or reliability problems since the late 1990s, Content said, and Wisconsin utility customers pay the second highest rates for electricity in the Midwest so customers expect their grid to be reliable.

      Brandon Morris, a spokesman with MISO said temporary, coordinated power outages are extremely rare and a last step emergency measure implemented to protect the electric grid.

      "MISO has never taken this step in Wisconsin," Morris said.

      More: UW-Milwaukee and Badger Technology Group win energy contract for Ellsworth Air Force Base

      More: UW study finds elimination of air pollution could save more than 53,000 lives each year in the U.S.

      Corrinne Hess can be reached at chess@gannett.com. Follow her @corrihess

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