Recently, we have received many calls from members that have had phone calls from someone claiming to be from North Star, telling them their bill is past due and they need to make payment immediately or their power will be turned off. THIS IS A SCAM! Scammers typically stress the need for members to act quickly. We strongly urge members to protect themselves and just hang up. If you receive such a call, do not give out any personal or financial information!
By Jim Matheson and Mac McLennan
Dozens of states in the most powerful nation in the world may struggle to keep the lights on this summer.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But absent a shift in policy and coordination between federal and state governments, this is the energy reality our nation will face for years to come.
Reliable electricity has been a staple in America for more than half a century. But that’s no longer a certainty. Organizations across the nation have sounded the alarm: reliable electricity may be in jeopardy this summer. That’s inexcusable.
Minnkota Power Cooperative utilizes a diverse mix of coal, wind and hydro resources to meet the 24/7 needs of electricity consumers in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. While this power portfolio is strong, Minnkota does not operate on the electric grid alone. Utilities across the Upper Midwest and down to Louisiana are interconnected through the larger Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) grid. Challenges in other areas of this system can and do have impacts on Minnkota and its members.
MISO expects to face a high risk of reliability challenges during both “normal and extreme conditions.” If demand for electricity exceeds the available supply, MISO could implement controlled power outages to avoid catastrophic damage to the power grid.
Some are quick to blame these newfound reliability threats on changing or more extreme weather patterns. That’s part of the story, but there’s a deeper problem that must be acknowledged.
Spurred by policy and market factors, the ongoing energy transition has prioritized premature baseload coal and nuclear plant closures without considering the collective impact on the power grid and the availability of feasible technology to fully replace them. That’s proving to be a dangerous misstep.
In MISO alone, 3,200 megawatts of electric generating capacity have shut down in the past year. That’s enough to keep the lights on in 2.8 million homes. And electricity demand is forecast to rise by nearly 2% this summer.
To put it simply, new power-generating projects in some of the largest electricity markets haven’t caught up with plant closures—jeopardizing reliability in the process.
Policymakers should recalibrate their focus on a common-sense energy transition that doesn’t risk reliability or punish low-income families and our economy. Those choices don’t need to be at odds.
Driven by a focus on keeping the lights on, America’s electric cooperatives have demonstrated what a responsible energy transition can look like. Electric co-ops substantially lowered their carbon emissions by 23% between 2005 and 2020, the equivalent of taking nearly 9 million cars off the road. They’ve also invested in energy innovation technologies to help meet tomorrow’s electricity needs with speed and flexibility.
In Minnkota’s case, approximately 42% of its generation capacity is already derived from carbon-free resources. The cooperative is also working to advance Project Tundra – an effort to build one of the world’s largest carbon capture systems at a coal-based power plant in North Dakota. If the proposed project moves ahead, it would help retain a reliable and resilient power generator, while also significantly reducing Minnkota’s carbon emissions.
The energy transition must consider threats to reliability and focus on the importance of allowing adequate time, technology development and the construction of desperately needed transmission lines to move electricity within regional markets. It is overambitious to believe this can happen by the current federal target of 2035.
Today’s energy policy decisions will determine whether the threat of grid reliability challenges is our new energy reality. As state and federal policymakers re-evaluate their energy transition proposals in the wake of sobering summer reliability challenges, they should:
- Prioritize an adequate supply of always-available power resources to balance the increasing reliance on renewable energy.
- Promote the development of new transmission lines to carry electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s most needed.
- Facilitate coordinated, consistent, and timely agency permitting to speed the construction and maintenance of electric transmission and other critical grid infrastructure.
- Provide electric cooperatives access to the same level of energy innovation incentives that for-profit utilities have enjoyed for years.
When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Failure is not an acceptable option for the consumers and communities we serve.
Jim Matheson is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association that represents the nation’s more than 900 not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives. He previously served seven terms as a U.S. representative from Utah.
Mac McLennan is CEO of Minnkota Power Cooperative, the wholesale electricity provider for 11 member cooperatives in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.
As summer officially begins, Minnkota remains ready to work with its members to navigate potential grid reliability challenges. Minnkota has expressed longstanding concerns about the need for the industry to prioritize reliability throughout the energy transition. Hear more from Mac McLennan, Minnkota president and CEO, about the current state of the grid and how Minnkota fits into the larger MISO system.
Are you interested in serving as a director on the North Star Electric Cooperative Board for your district? District elections will be held for districts 2, 3, and 7 at this year’s annual meeting. The elections for districts 2 and 3 are for four-year terms, and the election for district 7 is for one year. (The normal four-year term election for district 7 will be held in October 2023.) Director candidate materials are available by contacting our Baudette office at 218-634-2202.
North Dakota, Minnesota at risk of power outages this summer
America’s electric grid has become increasingly unstable – and it could begin impacting Minnkota Power Cooperative’s members this summer.
That’s why Minnkota and North Star Electric are joining many of our nation’s grid operators and regulators in sounding the alarm on the vulnerabilities that are affecting power reliability. As the pace of change in the energy industry continues to accelerate, so does the risk of rotating power outages and other extended service interruptions. Minnkota’s eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota service area is no longer immune to the large-scale grid challenges that have been experienced in Texas and California in recent years.
As North Star’s wholesale power provider, Minnkota takes its responsibility to provide reliable, resilient and responsible electricity seriously. The cooperative has more than enough generating capacity to meet the demands of its members through its coal, wind and hydro resources. But Minnkota does not operate on the grid alone. Utilities across the Upper Midwest are connected through Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). Emergency events experienced in other parts of the MISO region can and do have impacts back into the Minnkota system.
One of the most significant industry issues is the retirement of baseload and dispatchable power plants – including coal, nuclear and natural gas – without adequate replacements. Wind and solar make up the majority of the new resources being added to the grid, but they are limited by the fact that they are only able to operate intermittently – when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. While Minnkota supports moving toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy future, it is not something that can happen with the flip of the switch. It will take decades of planning and unprecedented technology development to achieve significant carbon reduction.
MISO expresses concerns
Minnkota is not alone in coming to these conclusions. MISO issued a dire warning in April that it does not have enough reliable power plant capacity on its system to meet its projected peak demand this summer. The result is an increasing risk of power outage events.
Minnkota both buys and sells surplus power in the MISO system, which estimates a 1,230-megawatt (MW) shortfall in power plant capacity to meet its reserve margin. For context, one megawatt-hour (MWh) is enough electricity to serve more than 800 homes with an hour’s worth of power.
“Due in large part to decarbonization goals set by our members and the states in our region, our resource fleet is increasingly reliant on intermittent and weather-dependent resources,” said Wayne Schug, vice president of strategy and business development at MISO. “As this trend continues in the future, MISO needs to evolve the grid, our markets, and our operational capabilities, which is just as complex as it sounds.”
In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal, MISO CEO John Bear added to this point by saying, “As we move forward, we need to know that when you put a solar panel or a wind turbine up, it’s not the same as a thermal resource.”
MISO’s peak demand for electricity typically occurs in the summer months during the hottest days of the year. The organization is conducting training and exercises to prepare for worst-case scenarios and is also implementing lessons learned and best practices. Likewise, Minnkota’s energy marketing team is working to ensure it’s ready to respond to volatile market and reliability conditions.
NERC issues grim report
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) – the federal regulatory entity responsible for the reliability of the nation’s electric grid – is also expressing concerns heading into the summer season. According to NERC, MISO is in the “high risk” category, and has the potential of “facing capacity shortfalls in its north and central areas during both normal and extreme conditions due to generator retirements and increased demand.”
NERC’s Summer Reliability Assessment notes that reliability challenges are being compounded by evolving demands on the power grid, which has grown increasingly complex as renewable energy assets are added.
“There’s clear, objective, inclusive data indicating that the pace of our grid transformation is a bit out of sync with the underlying realities and the physics of the system,” said John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment.
Along with the changing power supply mix, NERC also identified extreme weather conditions, high seasonal demand for electricity, supply chain issues and cybersecurity threats as other risks impacting reliability.
What is Minnkota doing?
While there are challenges, Minnkota supports efforts to reimagine how electricity can be produced, delivered and consumed. But the implementation of these ideas must be met with caution and common sense. After all, there is a lot on the line. A resilient and reliable electric grid that affordably keeps the lights on is the cornerstone of the American economy and our national security. Any missteps in an energy transition of this magnitude can have irreversible consequences.
So, what can be done? Minnkota is only one of thousands of utilities across the country, but it is taking its own steps to protect itself from power reliability challenges.
- Training and education
Minnkota’s employees are trained to respond to emergency grid events and continuously work to shield members from the volatility of the grid and markets. The cooperative also invests significant time in helping member-consumers, lawmakers, business interests and other in the general public understand the challenges the industry faces and the complexity in providing reliable power to the region.
- Maintaining a diverse energy mix
Minnkota’s energy portfolio consists of a diverse mix of coal, wind and hydro resources. Working together, these facilities help ensure 24/7 reliability on the Minnkota system. Coal-based facilities remain the workhorse of the system and are routinely available to produce power during the vast majority of each year.
- Upgrading our power delivery systems
Minnkota is building, upgrading and replacing the power delivery resources that connect its communities. New technologies are being added to Minnkota’s grid to provide enhanced data and communication capabilities – all in an effort to respond more quickly to issues and improve overall reliability.
- Continuous cybersecurity evolution
Minnkota continuously works to protect the electric grid from physical and cyber security threats. Energy experts in Minnkota’s Control Center monitor the grid 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of the cooperative’s employees, infrastructure and data.
- Strategically utilizing demand response
Minnkota has one of the most robust and effective demand response (also called off-peak) programs in the country. Through the program, Minnkota and its members can temporarily control electric heating, water heating and vehicle charging loads – shifting electrical demand when economical resources are not available.
May 31, 2022 – **UPDATE** We have been answering lots of questions from members, who are asking if we plan to cut their power due to the flooding on area lakes and waterways. We do not plan to cut any power at this time. Our equipment can withstand submersion in water, but if there is an outage situation that involves equipment that is under water, power will likely need to remain out until water recedes and the equipment is accessible again.
May 21, 2022 – We’ve been fielding questions recently from members concerned about our electric equipment being under water in flooded areas. Our equipment can withstand submersion in water, but if an abnormal outage situation occurs, please be aware power may not be able to be restored until water levels recede. If you have any questions, please reach out to either the Littlefork office at 218-278-6658 or the Baudette office at 218-634-2202.
Mark your calendar with our Littlefork and Baudette Member Appreciation Open House dates! They will be held on Tuesday, June 21, in Littlefork, and Wednesday, June 22, in Baudette, each day from 11 am to 2 pm. The linemen will be grilling brats for lunch, and we will have door prizes for both kids and adults! Hope to see you there!
The 2022 Knowledge Scholarship competition has been completed! Congratulations to these winners!
$1,000.00 – Bryanna Wichner from Littlefork-Big Falls School
$400.00 – Destiny Piekarski from Littlefork-Big Falls School
$400.00 – Mackinley Imes from Lake of the Woods School
$400.00 – Mya Ballard from Roseau Community School
$400.00 – Chase Steinback from Indus School