NC Co-op Assets Pass the Test During Winter Storm
NC electric cooperatives utilized all components of the grid during an extreme weather eventBy Amadou Fall
If you’ve been following along in Carolina Country in recent years, you likely have a sense that North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are working together to prepare for a future where we continue our commitment to providing reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost, while also advancing the pursuit of responsible sustainability goals.
Much of the grid innovation you read about in the magazine, and also is discussed by your local electric co-op, plays a part in this transition. And on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, all of those assets were put to the test. Winter storm Elliott walloped states from Colorado to the East Coast with extreme temperatures, and in some cases wind and blizzard-like conditions. A sudden drop in temperature comes with a sharp and increased demand for electricity as heaters work to keep folks comfortable. As a result, ahead of the storm North Carolina’s electric cooperatives prepared for response to high loads and educated members about the need to conserve electricity. North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation (NCEMC), which provides power to 25 electric cooperatives in North Carolina, began communicating proactively about the storm within the co-op network and with Duke Energy, which provides a portion of our power.
From the electric cooperative perspective, the new grid technologies performed as expected in coordination with existing resources to manage a very challenging situation. We needed and were able to utilize all components of our grid during the extreme weather event: our generation plants, load response programs, battery energy storage systems, and other distributed sources managed by our Distribution Operator service (“Smart, Deliberate Grid Management,” July 2022, page 4).
This storm underscores the importance of grid reliability and coordination of a diverse set of supply resources.
This is not to say the storm came and went without issue. A regional storm of this size has wide-ranging impacts, and in other parts of the country, several weather-related factors came together to create a situation where, when a sharp and large increase in power was needed in the predawn period of the day to maintain the grid, it simply wasn’t available.
Duke Energy implemented rolling service disruptions for the first time in its history — a preventative measure used to avoid potential longer outages on a larger scale. (The Northeast blackout of 2003, which affected an estimated 45 million people across eight U.S. states, is an example of what can happen when demand outpaces supply unchecked.) Members of several electric co-ops across North Carolina were impacted by the situation. Cooperative substations are interconnected to an expansive transmission grid, and when power to these substations is interrupted, so too is electric service to cooperative members.
We thank cooperative members for their patience and understanding on what was otherwise a joyous holiday weekend, and we deeply appreciate all of your efforts to voluntarily conserve power.
Electric utilities, including electric co-ops, will learn from this experience in order to enhance service and response times during future storms. This storm underscores the importance of grid reliability and coordination of a diverse set of supply resources. The carefully managed resources and technologies we have implemented passed a critical test, and we are committed to implementing the lessons learned from this latest situation in our future grid planning and operations. Through all of these changes, we will maintain a dedicated focus on providing affordable electricity to our cooperative members, while keeping reliability and resiliency top priorities.
About the AuthorAmadou Fall is COO of the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation