An update from CEO, Hunter Robinson
February 2021 will be a month remembered by Oklahomans for many years to come. An arctic blast left the state in below freezing temperatures for nearly 14 days straight. Lows in Stillwater reached negative 15 degrees on February 16 with windchill ratings causing many mornings to feel much colder.
Central hit a new system peak that was 12 megawatts (MW) higher than our previous peak, which was set during the height of the oil and gas boom in 2015. To put that into perspective, some long-range predictions for Central's system did not project hitting this new peak until January 2046.
Fortunately, meteorologists predicted these dangerous temperatures well in advance of the storm, which allowed your cooperative to prepare. The Operations and Engineering staff immediately recognized the severity of the pending event and began meeting to find ways to ensure the system was prepared for record energy demands. Engineering staff spent hours assessing equipment settings and running new peak load scenarios across the system, while linemen shifted their focus from standard activities to performing field checks on critical system equipment.
Understanding the dangerous nature of the approaching cold allowed your cooperative to evaluate new ways to ensure outage times were as short as possible. The entire Central team was on alert 24/7 and ready to respond during the two-week period. While the proactive measures prevented major system failures, there were a handful of outages caused by mother nature or unrelated events.
Although it was close, Central was fortunate to not be required to implement load shedding strategies that would have resulted in rolling blackouts across portions of our system. Unfortunately, many utilities across the nation were not so lucky. We saw neighboring utilities, under the direction of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), implement rolling blackouts to keep up with electric demand. In Texas, many utilities saw widespread outages when the ERCOT grid was unable to keep up with demand.
While Central was not subject to SPP load shedding requests, we did ask members to voluntarily implement conservation efforts to ensure electric reliability at the request of our power providers. You made a difference. By watching system loading from one night compared to another, we could see decreased energy consumption across the system even though the prior night had colder temperatures. A one-degree change in thermostats across the entire membership makes a big difference.
As you know, Central is a distribution cooperative and part of a three-tier network. We purchase power from and are also a part-owner of KAMO Power, a transmission cooperative headquartered in Vinita. KAMO Power is also part-owner of the generation cooperative Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc., located in Springfield, Missouri.
The arctic blast’s impact on you as a member is naturally of high concern. Many of you noticed that your electric bill was higher than normal due to the increased energy consumption during the two-week period in February. Recognizing that this could be an unplanned burden for some led us to offer flexible payment arrangements to those in need.
Energy prices across the nation skyrocketed due to the high demand for energy. This, coupled with energy production shortfalls caused by the extremely cold weather adversely affecting power generation technologies, resulted in energy market prices increasing 200 percent or more depending on the timing and need across the area. The rise in energy market prices will ultimately cause an increased cost of energy, but we do not expect the impact to be great.
Oklahoma is the second lowest cost energy state in the nation, and Central is one of the lowest cost energy providers in the state. We do not see a significant change in that status, and our goal is to provide you safe, reliable service at the lowest rate possible.
I want to thank all of you for your energy conservation efforts at a critical time during this event, and thank you for being a member of Central Rural Electric Cooperative.