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Willmar Municipal Utilities may be called to assist in 'keeping the lights on'

Willmar Municipal Utilities may be asked to help with emergency power generation and conservation measures this summer as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator expects energy shortages due to rising heat waves.

Power down
Willmar Municipal Utilities may be called upon to generate power this summer to assist the Midcontinent Independent System Operator in keeping the lights on throughout the MISO service area. Willmar Municipal Utilities purchases the bulk of its power, but it currently can produce up to 12 megawatts of emergency generation.
West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — Extreme heat conditions are again causing the Midcontinent Independent System Operator to call on all utilities and communities to assist in “keeping the lights on,” according to Willmar Municipal Utilities General Manager John Harren.

MISO manages the power grid for 15 Midwest states, including Minnesota, plus the Canadian province of Manitoba. It issued a capacity advisory Sunday — and a hot weather alert Monday, June 13, through 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 15. The organization also declared conservative operations from midnight until 8 p.m. for Wednesday, June 15.

“If you read the paper today and have been paying attention to the news, MISO keeps telling us they have a shortage,” Harren told the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission at its meeting Monday.

“Depending on the summer and many moving targets that go along with power supply, they are anticipating a shortage of five gigawatts, which is substantial. They are asking all utilities, communities to assist in keeping the lights on if we have those peak days, where consumption is going to exceed output, that we all do our share.”

Willmar Municipal Utilities staff is currently developing a plan to share with the community so everyone knows what is coming and what to expect, Harren said.

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Typically, when energy shortages exist, conserving energy consists of not running large appliances, such as clothes dryers and dishwashers, during peak energy consumption times, he added.

This is the second or third time in the last couple of years that MISO has notified Willmar Municipal Utilities of possible shortages in the energy supply, Harren noted. It was notified this winter during the vortex, but was not actually called upon to generate power as some other utilities were in the MISO and Southwest Power Pool regions.

The Southwest Power Pool oversees the bulk electric grid and wholesale power market in the central U.S. for utilities and transmission companies in 17 states.

Willmar Municipal Utilities currently can produce up to 12 megawatts via its diesel generators, Harren said Tuesday. The utility also has some power generation from its wind turbines.

The utility posted a peak alert on Tuesday afternoon implementing load sharing Tuesday afternoon and also asking customers to conserve energy by reducing their electric usage during the afternoon.

The utilities was last called on to run its diesel generators in June 2021.

“The request from MISO never elevated any higher last June than the local runs,” Harren said, adding that when the Texas grid failed in February 2021, other areas within the MISO and Southwest Power Pool footprint had rolling blackouts.

“It’s becoming more frequent. Hopefully, we don’t have a perfect storm that is going to require us to get into rolling blackouts, but they want everybody to be as prepared and as informed as they can be if that were to happen.”

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A capacity advisory from MISO is used for situational awareness and informs members that, based on projected system conditions and capacity levels, there may be a need in the coming days to bring additional units on-line, according to MISO’s website. Members are instructed to prepare for this possibility.

Declaring conservative operations provides an early indication that system conditions may require emergency procedures or conservative operations. In the declaration, MISO asks members to review outage plans and determine which planned maintenance or testing can be postponed. The goal of the declaration is to defer, delay or recall any non-essential maintenance, according to the MISO website.

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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