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Adding the cherry on top of a winter that seems full of superlatives, Nebraska endured one of the most severe statewide cold snaps in our history. The same polar vortex that brought our temperatures to -30° led to snow cover extending from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.
Rolling blackouts timed during the most extreme low temperatures put lives and livelihoods at risk. These outages were implemented by power districts based on an emergency order from the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), and would generally last for anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours.
The SPP, not local public power districts, dictated the rolling blackouts. For those who may not have the background on the hierarchy of public power, the SPP was founded in 1941, and oversees the bulk of the electrical grid and wholesale power market in the central United States. North Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, parts of Texas, and Nebraska are a few of the fourteen states in this pool. The SPP’s main purpose is to ensure the reliable supply of power and adequate transmission infrastructure across its region, a goal that was obviously not achieved last week.
The SPP has the authority to order local public power districts to implement rolling blackouts to protect the integrity of the region’s grid during emergency situations. During the blistering cold temperatures of last week, demand skyrocketed for power across SPP’s service area. The high demand for power, paired with a lack of supply, caused the SPP to order rolling outages from Texas all the way to North Dakota to prevent the entire region from losing power. Over 80,000 customers of the Omaha Public Power District lost power at some point from Monday to Wednesday morning, with many more losing power in other power districts. It’s easy to quantify the impact of these outages in residential areas, but those negative impacts were compounded for our farmers and livestock producers if emergency generators were unavailable.
There’s been a wide-ranging debate on why energy supply dropped off when it was needed most, but frozen wind turbines, solar panels, and natural gas lines were each culprits to some degree. Our region’s power grid was left vulnerable due to the gradual elimination of reliable “baseload” generation, such as coal and nuclear, across the SPP.
We are blessed to have two plants that provide consistent energy generation in District 1. The Nebraska City Station and Cooper Nuclear Station contributed to keeping our lights on while other means of energy production failed. Teammates at these facilities worked tirelessly to keep our families warm during these frigid days, and I’m grateful for their efforts. Moving forward, we should all demand that if Nebraska is to remain a member of the SPP, that further investments are made in baseload generation to ensure that a threat to our power grid of this level never happens again.
As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.