March 2021 Pierre Mayor's Report
We received quite a few calls at City Hall last week from people wondering about blackouts and how the weather in Texas is causing power outages in South Dakota. You might have a few questions of your own.
In very relatable terms, during the cold snap, it was like someone was plugging way too many appliances into an outlet and to keep appliances running, something had to get unplugged. Blackouts were just a toaster getting unplugged on a much grander scale.
I’ll break it down for you.
First, it’s important to understand that the City of Pierre does not generate power. We buy power and then distribute it to our customers. Our power comes from the Southwest Power Pool. That’s a group of energy producers that pool their power together and then distributed it across more than a dozen states. Those states range from North and South Dakota to Texas and Louisiana.
When the supply of power in any of those states doesn’t meet the demand, the Southwest Power Pool takes action. In the case of last week, the Power Pool directed its members to “shed load”. That basically means diminish demand by shutting off power somewhere.
As you might know, the City was put on standby for a potential 60-90 minute power out Wednesday. Luckily, on Wednesday, the power supply was meeting the demand across the whole Power Pool territory. A power out in Pierre wasn’t needed. Not all communities were so lucky!
Here’s how the Power Pool got to the point of needing to shed load.
It’s a basic supply and demand problem that was complicated by Mother Nature delivering a one-two punch.
Demand for power increased across the territory, especially in the southern states, because of the unprecedented and persistent cold weather. When it’s cold, people turn up their heat. When it’s dark, people turn on their lights. Freezing temps make for a lot of cold dark nights and early mornings which drive up demand.
At the same time demand was going up, supply was going down. You see, the wind energy that helps support the power supply literally got iced. Many turbines couldn’t move, meaning they couldn’t produce energy. When the sun doesn’t shine, solar energy is also removed from the equation. Additionally, other energy sources, like natural gas, had infrastructure that froze up. All of those issues compounded to create a big energy supply shortage when demand was at an all–time high.
Here’s why what’s happening in Texas matters in South Dakota.
The Power Pool supplies power to the entire territory; we all plug into that same energy pool.
With increased demand and diminished supply, there wasn’t enough to go around. Rather than having uncontrolled power outages, which are difficult to recover from, the Power Pool decreased demand by removing it in a quick, but controlled manner. They call that a blackout.
Thankfully, Pierre experienced no blackout, and we were a toaster that was allowed to remain plugged in.
What happened is no reflection on our local electrical infrastructure. In fact, the City has modernized all of our substations and most of the transmission lines in the last several years. Our equipment is good shape!