KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV)-- The rolling power outages Monday and Tuesday were an effort to stabilize the strained electric grid.
According to Evergy, we have enough power in the Kansas City area to serve everyone in the Kansas City area, but we’re part of a larger non-profit organization created by the federal government whose purpose is to provide the cheapest, most reliable power across our section of the grid.
The United States is split into three electric grids. Kansas City is in the largest one, called the Eastern Interconnectivity, which covers two thirds of the continental U.S. and part of Canada.
The grid is a huge network of inter-connected power lines that transmit electrical energy, and it’s controlled by a lot of different organizations and companies.
Locally, the Southwest Power Pool is tasked with making decisions to ensure the grid is stable. It’s a regional transmission organization, a non-profit mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The purpose is to ensure reliable and affordable power to consumers within it’s 17 state coverage area.
Monday and Tuesday, SPP mandated that Evergy and other power companies conserve power through temporary, rolling outages. Monday’s planned outage lasted less than an hour, and Tuesday’s about three hours. It’s the first time in its history SPP has had to take that kind of action.
It was an effort for the greater good of the entire grid.
“This was done as a preventative measure to avoid a much longer, much larger and prolonged power outage,” Evergy spokesperson Chuck Caisely said.
Though Evergy says its been able to produce sufficient energy the last few days to power needs in Kansas City, it hasn’t been without problems.
Coal stacks have frozen, and Evergy crews then have to manually break them up with bulldozers, which requires a lot of time and manual labor.
“And then ultimately when the coal is burned, it doesn’t generate as much electricity as it normally would because of the moisture content and the temperature of the coal,” Caisely said.
Wind turbines also froze because of the high content of moisture in the air, so the wind energy supply is down significantly.
Caisely said virtually every type of energy production is effected by the severe cold.
“All of our equipment runs on diesel or hydraulic kinds of mechanics, both of which in these extreme temperatures have higher failure rate,” he said. “We also see water intakes and cooling systems necessary to keep power plants running that are freezing up, and have to have ice manually broken off of them. It’s very labor-intensive and sometimes results and breaking the very equipment you’re trying to keep running.”
The entire Southwest Power Pool has a very diverse portfolio when it comes to types of energy production.
In 2020, 31% of energy produced was from wind, 30% from coal, 26% from natural gas, 6% from nuclear energy, 5% from hydro-power, and less than 1% from solar and other sources.
Texas, which has its own grid separate from the rest of the country, also has a diverse portfolio of energy sources. Millions of people there have gone hours, or even days, without power in a winter storm that’s set records for the entire state.
“Texas was not prepared. They have some aging facilities and they didn’t properly winterize for such cold. It literally froze natural gas facilities so they could not function and machinery shut down,” Park University Physicist Dr. Alexander Silvius said.
It’s an uncontrolled blackout situation like what’s happening in Texas, that SPP is trying to avoid with it’s rolling temporary blackouts.
“It’s reassuring to know that they have a plan for the power to be out for less than an hour as it rolls,” Silvius said.
Silvius said moving forward, those controlling the power grids should look for more ways to ensure a sufficient reserve of natural gas ahead of winter storms.
Right now, there’s no sufficient way to reserve other forms of power, such as renewable energy.