During a phone call today with the administrator of the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), Gov. Doug Burgum urged the agency to give North Dakota utilities and their customers as much advance warning as possible before temporarily shutting off their electricity as directed by market operator Southwest Power Pool (SPP).
SPP is implementing rolling blackouts to balance the power load across its 14-state region, including North Dakota, as demand for electricity is skyrocketing due to extreme cold weather gripping the central U.S. as far south as Texas, where 4.5 million people were without power today, and supply of electricity is dropping due to production issues with intermittent sources.
In addition to requesting as much notice as possible before a rolling blackout happens, Burgum also urged WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel to consider the secondary effects and unintended consequences of rolling blackouts on critical infrastructure such as natural gas processing plants in western North Dakota. Burgum noted that cutting power to those processing plants threatens to interrupt the supply of natural gas flowing to consumers’ homes as well as to North Dakota gas-fired peaking plants that are generating electricity and helping to keep power flowing across the central United States.
“While we understand WAPA has received short notice from SPP to reduce load, North Dakotans deserve as much lead time as possible to prepare for rolling blackouts before their service areas are affected,” Burgum said. “These agencies also must ensure that rolling blackouts don’t have a negative domino effect by sidelining other energy sources from the grid, such as gas processing plants in western North Dakota.”
“This situation is a wake-up call, one that should trigger a national discussion about the importance of policies that support the absolutely essential baseload generation such as coal-fired power plants as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” Burgum added. “Instead of heavily subsidizing non-dispatchable, intermittent sources with tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks, we should be investing more in research and innovation such as carbon capture and sequestration that strengthens our baseload capacity to meet the needs of all Americans, all of the time, with clean, reliable energy. It’s also a stark reminder that we must make every effort to find a buyer to keep Coal Creek Station open and operating as an essential piece of our region’s baseload capacity, and to maintain a stable tax and regulatory environment for future investments in much-needed transmission infrastructure.”
WAPA said the emergency may last through Thursday and that utility customers should be prepared for unexpected outages, which WAPA is trying to limit to 45 minutes.