MUSCATINE — While rolling blackouts were not imminent as of Wednesday morning, Muscatine Power and Water officials are not ruling out the possibility, and ask customers in Southeast Iowa to voluntarily conserve electricity Wednesday, especially during the peak hours of 4 to 9 p.m.
Because of the extremely hot weather conditions predicted and the higher demand for electricity, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which oversees the electrical grid for the 15-state region of the Midwest, is asking customers to conserve electricity Wednesday. People are asked to turn down air conditioning and to avoid running dishwashers, dryers and other non-essential electrical devices.
"There has not been a formal request from MISO to (conserve electricity), but there are some things in the works," said Ryan Streck, director of MPW utility service delivery. "MISO did issue a hot weather alert and a conservative operations warning. At 1 p.m. today there is a max generation alert that goes into effect. What all that means is that it would be good to conserve energy. There is actually a formal step much later in the process when they say we need to reduce load and we haven't gotten there yet, but it makes a lot of sense to reduce load and take conservative actions, but we aren't at that high warning yet."
He said energy conservation is a good idea, but as of Wednesday morning MPW has not made a public appeal for conservation and was not ready to shed load. He said these kinds of warnings are somewhat common.
Late Tuesday, MISO issued an advisory for "maximum generation alert." The alert stressed this is an advisory stage of its plan and not an elevated warning that would call for electric conservation or protective power outages.
Blackouts occur when the demand for electricity is higher than the electricity generated and all other energy management options have been exhausted. Rolling blackouts are a controlled way to avert strain on the system, which can cause a total blackout and electrical system damage.
Streck said if MPW is informed of the need, it will open a circuit breaker at a substation that will take an area out of service. If this is required, the power outage would last only about an hour before power is restored to that substation and a different one is taken out of service for an hour. The goal is for no single area to go without power for a long time. He also said the plan for this contingency is regularly worked on and there is a list of important areas in Muscatine, such as the Muscatine County 911 Center/Muscatine County Emergency Management (MUSCOM) or water well fields, which would be the very last places power would be cut to.
While MPW is producing enough electricity for its service area, the potential problem could come from areas not producing enough electricity. Streck said the entire grid is linked and an electrical emergency in one area causes an electrical emergency throughout the grid.
Streck also said conditions can change quickly and local energy suppliers are working to offer all the electricity they can to the grid.
"We are doing all the right things here," he said. "Some of the things we do is we suspend testing and maintenance because when you are testing relays mistakes can happen and you can trip things offline. We just don't want to take any unnecessary risks right now."
Earlier this spring, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. announced the states in the grid were at a high risk for energy emergencies during peak usage. Gridwide, there are concerns such as lower water levels in lakes and rivers that power hydroelectric production in some of the states. Several social media posts from providers indicate the power generation system is struggling to keep up.