The unprecedented weather event this week has quickly taken hold as the worst winter storm in decades.
Prolonged sub-freezing temperatures paired with ice and snow thrust our region’s power grid to the brink of major outages. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) has officially become a part of our state’s vocabulary.
Oklahoma is more fortunate than we realize to be a part of a regional grid network with 14 other states tied together to support each other in times of need.
The SPP handled this extreme weather event rather well, limiting outages around the region and balancing our diverse mix of generation during extreme conditions. Our neighboring state to the south was not so lucky.
Yet, throughout this extraordinary event, Oklahoma’s power supply was on the brink of failure. As outages loomed, the politics of energy took center stage.
Some would like to spin an unproductive narrative to force fossil fuels and renewable energy against each other, laying blame of the system’s failure on one type of energy.
Numerous stories of frozen wind turbines have circulated around the national media. In SPP, a few instances of ice fog did occur with wind facilities, but they occurred a week before the Valentine’s Day Storm.
SPP accounts for the variability of renewable resources in their seasonal adjustments for both short- and long-term planning processes. Based upon SPP data wind energy met or exceeded forecasted production expectations during the event.
So why was the grid system on the brink of failure? The data is clear; no fuel types were spared from impact during this event. From renewables like wind and solar, to thermal power plants running on natural gas and coal, all generation was impacted.
Wind production was lower during the Valentine’s Day Storm, not because of icing but simply because wind itself wasn’t as abundant those days.
Unfortunately, natural gas and coal, thought to be firm and reliable, also had outages and freeze-offs, leading to shortage in power supply. This, coupled with extreme demand, led to spikes in energy prices across the region.
Yet SPP was able to balance all of these issues and use our diverse forms of generation to keep the region from going dark. Moving forward, we must consider innovative solutions that will avert a disaster in the future and discuss the costs we’re willing to pay for those solutions.
That means planning for worsening storms through winterization efforts while expanding and upgrading transmission capacity. We must increase energy efficiency and response efforts to power demand and continue our “all of the above” energy strategy.
This storm has taught us a lot more about SPP and the energy necessary to keep the lights on. Now is the moment to innovate, prepare, come together and lead the conversation on energy.
The nation’s politics are divided on most issues, but Oklahoma can lead by example when it comes to energy.
We have it all, we need it all and the state of Oklahoma is poised to lead that conversation as the energy capital of America.