Extreme weather highlights importance of reliable electricity

The 2019 polar vortex demonstrated that members have the right people and power plants ready for extreme weather.

On a normal day, having reliable electricity means you can charge your phone, watch TV and cook dinner. During extreme weather, however, reliable electricity means so much more. Many Cooperative members depend on electricity for space heating, warm water and even medical equipment.

The importance of electricity was on display a year ago when a polar vortex sent temperatures well below zero and stressed the electric system for several days.

Stearns Electric deployed line technicians, trucks and equipment to fix problems caused by the cold weather. At the same time, our wholesale electricity provider Great River Energy carefully operated and monitored the electric system to ensure energy continued to reach Stearns Electric and the 27 other cooperatives it serves.

Extreme weather brings new focus

When winter weather turns dangerous, power line crews suspend routine maintenance in order to closely monitor the grid and fix issues that arise due to cold temperatures, ice and wind.

“When our system is stressed or damaged, our crews work around the clock to keep the grid operating for our member-consumers,” said Priti Patel, Great River Energy’s vice president and chief transmission officer.

Region-wide collaboration

Great River Energy works with the regional grid operator, known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO, and neighboring utilities to prepare for possible scenarios. During events like the polar vortex, MISO can issue cold weather alerts, which direct utilities to prepare all power plants to be dispatched on short notice.

Tried and true resources come through

Cold weather can halt energy production at wind farms and restrict the availability of natural gas. This makes power plants like Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station particularly important. Located directly beside a coal mine, Coal Creek Station has dependable access to fuel and can operate around the clock for weeks or months at a time.