Blackouts come to South Dakota, Minnesota

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Update: Brookings Municipal Utilities said Tuesday evening that there was a low probability that rolling blackouts will be required in Brookings Wednesday morning and asked its customers to conserve energy for the next 48 hours.

PIERRE (AP) – Nearly 11,000 electric customers in South Dakota were without power on Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us, a website that tracks utility outage reports.

East River Electric Power Cooperative, which is part of the Southwest Power Pool, said it was expecting rolling blackouts for its customers, lasting up to an hour. Customers in Viborg, Hurley, Menno, Sioux Falls and western Minnesota were impacted.

Rolling blackouts of up to 30 minutes were also planned for Tuesday morning in the northwestern Minnesota city of Moorhead, where the temperature was negative 8 degrees on Tuesday morning. The area was also under a wind chill advisory, with wind chills expected to reach 25 to 40 degrees below zero.

South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson said Tuesday was a tougher day on the electric grid than Monday.  

“Parts of SD experienced a rolling outage of 20-60 minutes. A rolling outage is only called by the grid operator as a last ditch maneuver to maintain the grid itself. Voluntary reduced consumption helped end the outages,” Nelson tweeted Tuesday.

Federal regulators said Tuesday they were launching an “inquiry” into the operations of the bulk-power system during the severe winter storm that left millions without power in subfreezing temperatures in Texas and other states.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation announced the inquiry Tuesday.

Officials said the immediate emphasis will remain on restoring power to customers and securing the reliability of the bulk-power system, but they will work with other federal agencies, states, regional entities and utilities to identify problems with the performance of the bulk-power system and identify solutions. FERC oversees interstate electricity transmission while NERC oversees reliability standards for the continental U.S., Canada parts of Mexico.

It is estimated that rolling blackouts impacted 14 states, including South Dakota.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s office put out a statement Tuesday noting that President Joe Biden signed an executive order canceling construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, and he has since signed an executive order freezing new oil, gas, or coal development on federal land and in offshore waters.

“Families all across the U.S. are facing life-threatening cold right now,” Noem said. “This should remind everyone – including President Biden – that an America-first energy policy is critically important for the continued success of our great nation. The Biden administration has taken unprecedented action in recent weeks to restrict the distribution of fuel sources  that heat homes in South Dakota and many other states. I am calling on President Biden to immediately change course in the interest of all the families struggling to heat their homes across our country.”

“These executive orders create a bottleneck on America’s energy supply and prevent future energy development that would help alleviate the energy shortages that states are currently facing,” the statement concluded.

Brookings County issued an energy emergency alert on Tuesday morning to warn of potential outages.

“Outages may occur at any time today (2-16-2021) and into the overnight hours. Duration of the outage should be one hour or less,” the alert stated.

The alert included ideas to help stay warm during an outage: 

• Close off rooms to avoid losing the heat inside.

• Block out drafts around doors and windows with towels, rags and T-shirts.

• Keep your body and extremities warm. Dress in layers – such as t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweater/sweatshirt, mittens/gloves and a couple pairs of socks on your feet. 

• Eat warm foods and drink warm liquids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

• Go for a ride in a warm vehicle during the outage. 

• Do not use fire pits, grills or any non-vented heating units indoors.

Brookings Municipal Utilities said Tuesday evening that there was a low probability that rolling blackouts will be required in Brookings Wednesday morning and asked its customers to conserve energy for the next 48 hours.

The following statement was posted on BMU's social media accounts Tuesday:

On Tuesday morning at 6:15 a.m., the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) declared an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 3. The emergency alert means that electric generation in the region is not sufficient to meet the extreme and widespread demand for electricity.
Brookings Municipal Utilities is aware that some communities in South Dakota have been affected by temporary power outages, or rolling blackouts. These rolling blackouts are coordinated by the Reliability Coordinator of SPP and are necessary to reduce load on the electric system to protect the larger electric grid from longer, more sustained outages.
BMU has been put on standby by SPP that a similar Energy Emergency Alert may occur on Wednesday morning. There is a low probability that rolling blackouts will be required in Brookings, but we are preparing for the possible scenario and doing everything we can to minimize that likelihood. Unfortunately, BMU has no control over these decisions and want customers to be prepared for the possibility of an outage Wednesday morning. We ask that everybody do their best to conserve energy for at least the next 48 hours.
A few effective methods for reducing energy include turning down the heat, delaying the use of the dishwasher or clothes washer/dryer, and shutting off any unnecessary space heaters or lights in your home.
If we all work together, hopefully we can prevent outages during this extreme cold event. We will continue to diligently monitor the situation and keep you as informed as possible.

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