Weather conditions, system demand taking toll
Columbus, Neb. – With a continued forecast of hot and dry conditions, the Nebraska Public Power District is once again appealing to customers to reduce their use of electricity around the clock. The predicted weather conditions over the next few days indicate the hours of highest demand on NPPD’s system will be between 8-10 a.m. and 7-10 p.m. Customers are especially encouraged to reduce energy usage during these times. The reductions will help both the utility’s electrical grid and the agricultural community in north central Nebraska.
“For the last couple of weeks, NPPD has been asking for statewide cooperation from customers to reduce their energy use,” said NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope. “Their efforts have helped, but our plea continues. With no precipitation or temperature reductions in sight, concern grows for the continued wear and tear on our system during a season with the greatest demand.”
NPPD is a summer peaking utility. This means its greatest demand or its highest peaks occur during the summer. NPPD serves 80 communities directly, as well as 75 other utilities in the state that deliver the power NPPD generates to their customers, primarily in small towns or rural areas. NPPD’s electrical grid of more than 5,000 miles of transmission lines and substations interconnects with substations and distribution lines of other utilities throughout Nebraska.
Nebraska’s number one industry is agriculture. In fact, at least one third of NPPD’s summer electrical load is represented by the irrigation needs of the state’s ag community. Many irrigation systems are powered by electricity. This year’s increased demand for electricity, coupled with the extreme drought conditions, is challenging the electrical grid more than ever before.
“In addition to asking businesses, cities, residents, and industry to reduce their energy use, we have made concerted efforts with our wholesale utility partners and their agricultural customers to identify timeframes for controlling load to help spread out the demand on our system,” explained Pope. “This is helping some, yet demands on the system remain high.”
“Everything is happening at once. We are in a drought at the height of the growing season. People are running their air conditioners to stay cool. Industries and businesses are operating as necessary, and our system, especially in north central Nebraska, has been consistently stressed to the max,” he said. “We have some wind generation facilities in this area that, when operating, can inject generation right into the grid and help meet the demand, but when wind is minimal or absent, the transmission system can get overloaded.”
“The failure of transformers or critical components could bring about even more challenges to us and ultimately to customers, so we are making this appeal again and will do what we have to, to maintain system reliability,” he said.
NPPD has a program it used last week to protect its system from overloading. When the system’s reliability is threatened, NPPD’s system control operators send out “Transmission Emergency Relief Messages” to NPPD’s wholesale utility partners to let them know they need to open breakers to reduce the amount of electricity carried on the system at a particular time. These steps force a reduction in load to occur. When NPPD issues a TERM message, it also sends out special public service announcements to its wholesale utility partners and radio stations in the affected areas to share with customers.
“We don’t like to interrupt anyone’s service,” said Pope, “but if it means protecting equipment from damage or preventing cascading outages, we may have to force a limited interruption to service. These are purposeful, protective actions we take to preserve grid integrity; because the reliability of NPPD’s transmission system ultimately impacts the ability to meet our customers’ electricity needs.”
“We are grateful for all the cooperation we have received from customers, and they have responded well to shifting their energy usage to other times of the day,” said Pope. “Normally this works, but we are seeing around-the-clock demands on our system, which requires even more, around-the-clock energy reductions.”
“Nebraska is the Cornhusker state with a reputation for helping one another in times of need,” he said. “We are asking everyone to do what they can, without jeopardizing their safety, to reduce their use until we can get rain or a break in the hot temperatures.”