Skip to content

A solid energy plan for a volatile winter

North Star members should prepare for increased demand response hours this season

If you’re a member enrolled in your co-op’s off-peak (or demand response) program, knowing the “why” behind the moments your dual fuel heating is temporarily switched is likely important to you – especially during the long, cold months of winter. Our power supplier, Minnkota Power Cooperative, makes the decision of when to shift off-peak members to their backup heat source for a variety of reasons, but it all comes down to affordability and reliability.

In a typical winter season, Minnkota tries to keep its demand response hours managed to 250 hours. This year, the goal is the same, but there will be unique obstacles to overcome in order to meet it. One of those challenges is a three-month planned maintenance outage on Unit 2 of the Young Station, one of the largest sources of power for Minnkota’s members.

“The outage is at beginning of the season, September into December, which is generally a light demand response period for us. The outage has the potential to increase our hours at the beginning of the season,” said Dan Trebil, Minnkota’s energy supply manager. “That, combined with the volatile energy market that we’re seeing, is going to play a part in how close we are able to manage to that 250-hour level.”

When Minnkota needs additional energy to meet the needs of its members (perhaps when there’s no wind for the turbines and demand is extremely high), it looks to purchase energy from a regional market. Over the past few months, that market has seen dramatic spikes in price – something Minnkota tries to avoid to protect its membership.

“The biggest things that are playing into the volatility are transmission constraints in our area, as well as the price of natural gas,” Trebil explained. “Right now, the price of natural gas is actually the lowest it’s been in the past few months. That was somewhat anticipated, but it’s also anticipated that it will go back up come December or January.”

It’s important for members to prepare now for increased demand response this winter. Individuals with off-peak dual fuel heating systems should check that they have adequate fuel for their backup source (propane, fuel oil, etc.). Off-peak members are sometimes caught by surprise when demand response kicks in for the first time, especially when it’s early in the season.

Remember that your co-op’s demand response program is a win-win-win for all involved. Enrolled members are thanked with a reduced electric rate (and no interruption in comfort), the co-op can navigate high-demand days while avoiding expensive market purchases, and the entire regional grid benefits from reduced demand.

“We’re in an interconnected system,” Trebil said. “When the grid gets into a potentially unstable situation, it’s because of tight conditions between generation and demand. So we’re able to respond in those situations with our demand response to not only help us and our members, but the grid as a whole. Lowering our demand helps balance the entire footprint.”