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Potential Energy Shortfall Forecasted by Regional Power Grid Operator

Posted on Friday, June 10, 2022

Potential Energy Shortfall Forecasted by Regional Power Grid Operator

Families and businesses across the Midwest may be affected by an energy shortfall this summer. We want customers to understand the situation and how it could affect your electric service. 

Cedar Falls Utilities and many utilities in the Midwest are members of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). MISO operates the regional electric system serving Iowa and surrounding states. MISO monitors the electric grid and directs the operation of electric generating plants and the transmission of electricity to utilities.

MISO recently issued an alert that the region may not be able to generate enough electricity during peak demand times this summer. Peak electric demand usually occurs when temperatures are high and lots of electricity is used to cool buildings. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) echoed this warning in a recent summer reliability report. NERC’s assessment placed the MISO region in the “high risk” category for energy capacity shortfalls.

If an energy shortfall occurs in the MISO region, CFU and other utilities in the area could be called on to run local electric generating plants and cut energy demand. In extreme cases, limited, controlled power outages (rolling blackouts) may be required. Controlled power outages are necessary in an emergency to prevent long-term damage to the electric grid.

“CFU is doing everything we can to prevent service interruptions,” said Steve Bernard, CFU General Manager. “We want customers to understand the situation so they can be prepared to conserve energy if needed.”

For many years the MISO region had the capacity to produce more electricity than needed by customers. The excess energy capacity has been shrinking. This is largely due to retirements of fuel-dependent plants fired by coal, natural gas or nuclear fuel. For example, the Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant in Iowa was retired in 2020. There have been many other retirements of nuclear and coal-fired plants throughout the upper Midwest due to economic, regulatory and environmental pressures. These plants provided reliable power 24/7. According to NERC, the MISO region will have 2.3% less generation capacity this year than in the summer of 2021.

There have been large additions of wind generation to the electric grid, and significant additions of solar arrays are expected soon. However, wind and solar are intermittent and unpredictable resources that do not provide certainty when planning for days with high electric demand.

“Power outages are rare in Cedar Falls,” said Bernard. “Our local distribution system is well-built and maintained, as are our local generating resources including the Streeter Station power plant, natural gas turbines and solar array. Thanks to conservation efforts by many of our customers, our community’s peak electric demand has not increased since 2013.”

“Maintaining our local generating units and holding our electric demand steady has benefited our community. However, keeping the interconnected regional power grid functioning is a group effort,” said Bernard. All utilities in the region could be required by MISO to cut electric demand in an emergency.

If an energy shortfall occurs customers across the Midwest could be called on to reduce energy demand to maintain grid reliability. In that situation, CFU will work with large business customers to temporarily cut energy usage and may call on residential customers to conserve energy. This would typically happen during peak demand times in the afternoons and early evenings. Simple actions can help when CFU issues a conservation alert including:

  • Turn your air conditioner off or turn the temperature up to 78 degrees or higher
  •  Avoid using large appliances like your washer, dryer and dishwasher

If utilities across our region are forced to implement limited, controlled outages, CFU will give customers as much advance notice as possible. Outages would only occur in extreme circumstances. CFU is not able to isolate from the larger electric grid to maintain power in Cedar Falls during an emergency event. Outages would cycle throughout the community in short increments around an hour in length. Power would be maintained at Sartori Hospital and key public safety facilities. If you have critical medical or communications equipment, it is important to be prepared with a battery backup or alternative location.

CFU asks customers to be alert for news and communications from the utility throughout the summer. If an energy shortfall occurs, CFU will reach out through public and social media communications with a conservation alert. CFU will also contact customers through direct, automated messaging. This could be in the form of a phone call, text message or notification through the CFU2Go app. CFU customers should make sure cell phone numbers are updated in utility records. To check or update the phone number listed in your CFU account, call CFU Customer Service at 319-268-5280. Or login to your online utility account and check your “My Profile” information.

CFU also encourages customers to download the CFU2Go outage reporting app. The CFU2Go app allows customers to report and view utility and internet outages and provides customers with system-wide notices. You can download the app by visiting cfu.net/app.

Customers will receive a notice in the mail soon with more information about the regional electric assessment. Residents who want to learn more can visit cfu.net/energy or call Customer Service at 319-268-5280.