What is SPP and how do their actions affect you?

February 18, 2021

A message from Heartland CEO Russell Olson

Over the last few days, we’ve experienced an unprecedented bout of cold weather. Record low temperatures were recorded across the 14-state region covered by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which stretches from North Dakota down into parts of Texas.

As a result, you were asked to conserve energy and, in some cases, controlled power outages were implemented to prevent longer, sustained outages.

You may be wondering what was so unusual about this cold snap. Why did we have to curb usage during what many of us consider a normal weather event?

First, you have to understand how SPP works.

Chances are you never heard of SPP before now. SPP is a regional transmission organization that operates the electric power grid on behalf of member utilities.

Essentially, the power grid is shared across the 14 states SPP serves. SPP does not own generation (electricity production) or the transmission lines (movement of electricity).

Rather, it balances the supply and demand of electricity minute-by-minute to ensure power gets to customers. Think of SPP as the grid’s “air traffic controller.”

When electricity is generated, it goes into a “pool,” and from that “pool,” SPP manages the energy market throughout the central portion of the U.S.

SPP ensures that the amount of power sent is coordinated and matched with power received. This allows the grid to be operated more efficiently and reduces costs.

So why does cold weather in Oklahoma affect how you use electricity?

Typically, extreme weather is limited to a smaller portion of the region. Power generated in one area can be dispatched to another area that needs it. It’s akin to neighbors helping neighbors.

However, the extreme cold of the last few days stretched across the region. Areas with typically mild weather saw unusual negative temperatures. This created an unprecedented demand on the electric grid.

It also put a strain on the available resource pool. Demand for natural gas, both as a heating source and for electrical generation, increased substantially because of the extreme cold. This caused supply shortages, exacerbated by the impacts of unusually cold temperatures on generation facilities in southern SPP.

During this period, SPP also experienced unusually low wind levels, significantly impacting available wind generation. A combination of seasonally unprecedented demand with these supply constraints created a “perfect storm.”

To protect the system, SPP has had to implement controlled outages throughout the region. This is a first in the company’s 80-year history. These decisions are not made lightly and are done as an absolute last resort. Though inconvenient at best, the shutoffs prevent damage to the transmission system, which would result in much longer outages.

Fortunately, warmer weather is on the way, easing system strain. SPP ended the energy emergency alert the morning of February 18. At this time, we don’t expect to see further scheduled outages.

We appreciate your cooperation in helping conserve and limit energy during this historic, trying time. Your small efforts helped create a greater impact that protects all electric customers.

Your efforts are what living in public power communities are all about. The last few days have given new meaning to term “community powered,” and we are grateful for your actions.