Addressing California Blackouts // CEO Column October 2020

At the end of the summer, a record-breaking heat wave hit California causing the state’s three biggest utilities to cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses for about an hour at a time. I’ve received questions from our members asking if this type of situation could occur in our state, and I’d like to share the response Great River Energy’s President & CEO David Saggau issued recently.

Saggau addresses some key differences between California and Minnesota and emphasizes the strength of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) electricity market. Great River Energy, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative’s wholesale power provider, has been a MISO market participant since 2005.

Rolling blackouts in California have been making headlines and sparking questions across the country, particularly in regions such as the Midwest that are seeing rapid renewable energy growth. Great River Energy and many of our member-owners are receiving the same question: “Could this happen here?”

There is a fundamental difference between California and Minnesota that makes our situations quite different: California’s dependence on solar energy. Rolling blackouts are occurring shortly after sundown when solar resources stop generating while temperatures remain high and air conditioner use continues. Solar energy makes up a very small percentage of the generating resources in MISO, so the region does not experience sharp drop-offs in energy production associated with widespread reliance on solar generating resources.

As a member of MISO, we must have sufficient generating capacity to meet our members’ peak load plus reserves. Great River Energy’s generating capacity is, and will always be, more than sufficient to provide reliable service and meet MISO requirements.

We have a fleet of modern natural gas plants in Minnesota that provide all-hours reliability. Most of these plants have on-site backup fuels. We have also built new transmission across the region to ensure energy can be delivered to our members. And, in partnership with member-owner cooperatives, we have developed one of the country’s most robust demand response programs which allows us to effectively reduce electric loads during extreme conditions.

Great River Energy has the resources we need to ensure reliable electricity for our members.

David Saggau, Great River Energy President & CEO