Nolin RECC President & CEO Greg Lee explains “curtailment” in the October 2023 edition of the Nolin News in Kentucky Living Magazine.
While Nolin does not expect electricity interruptions due to extreme weather conditions to be frequent or even common, we want our members to understand that they are possible and the reasons for that. Education is a cooperative principle we take seriously and we are committed to keeping our members as informed as possible.
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Understanding the Importance of Voluntary Curtailment by Greg Lee
Last winter, in the days leading up to Christmas, much of the country found itself in a significant polar vortex that had not been encountered in several years. Because of Winter Storm Elliott, many of us in Kentucky saw subzero temperatures for consecutive days with little relief. Numerous factors including the timing of the holiday season, rapid decline in temperatures and windchill, significantly higher than forecasted electric loads, and unanticipated lack of availability of natural gas greatly increased the challenges associated with the constant supply of electricity.
Some of you may recall Nolin sending out social media communications encouraging our members to take all reasonable energy conservation measures during this time. This was met with a mixed response, but I want to take time now to explain why we made that request, why we may need to do it again in the future, and hopefully help you understand why it should be important to all of us.
In short, the request we made to you last winter to conserve energy can be defined as a “voluntary curtailment.” This is an appeal that you help limit total system power requirements or “demand.” Some larger industrial operations can be subject to “mandatory curtailments” as a function of contractual terms.
You may remember that several parts of the country encountered “rolling blackouts” during Winter Storm Elliott, and that places like Texas and California also encountered this fate in other recent severe weather events. Simply put, this is when the power demand is greater than the supply. The rolling blackout is an action utilities can take in response to emergency circumstances to prevent system damage, brownout conditions – or worse yet – much larger and much longer blackout conditions. The rolling blackout is designed to cut power supply to certain segments of the system for short durations (about 1 hour) while others stay on. This pattern then “rolls” from one part of the system to another so no one is impacted for too long. Though this is very inconvenient for all parties involved, the goal is to keep everyone as comfortable as possible during extreme temperatures. Last December, we asked you to voluntarily conserve because there was some legitimate concern that parts of Kentucky may be within hours of facing rolling blackouts.
The good news is, from an electrical standpoint, Nolin RECC members sit in a very resilient position relative to the national grid. Starting locally, from your home to our substations, we have one of the most rugged and reliable distribution systems in the country. Our biggest challenge is controlling nuisance vegetation – which we are working hard to manage every day. East Kentucky Power Cooperative (Nolin’s power supplier) has a robust transmission system with diverse generation assets. They are consistent in providing high service availability time and prompt response to outage circumstances. EKPC is a member of PJM, a regional transmission organization, that coordinates the distribution of wholesale electricity from hundreds of generation assets across 13 states in the mid-Atlantic and Midwestern part of the country. By virtue of being a member of PJM, EKPC is able to tap into the extensive generation and transmission network PJM has to offer. This affords EKPC drastically increased reliability, resiliency, and economics, while the generation assets they own and operate here in Kentucky provide all of us a failsafe in the most challenging reliability and economic circumstances. Due to the collective performance of Nolin, EKPC, and PJM, Nolin members are exceptionally well positioned, even relative to some of our close neighbors, to maintain service in drastic weather events.
Though we are well positioned, we cannot rest on that sentiment as a guarantee. One reason I am sharing this now is because we typically see the highest demand on our system during the winter. So, when we ask you to conserve energy, we really mean it, and we really need your help. The amount of notice we can give will vary based on conditions outside of our control. We will communicate this request in every way we have available to us including local media, our social media channels and website, and text/email alerts directly to our members.
Though we cannot predict the likelihood, it is possible we will all have to endure short term inconveniences to avoid a much longer service disruption. We can wait to wash and dry our clothes and dishes. We can charge our EV or take a hot shower later. And we can all get by with the thermostat at 66 (winter) or 76 (summer) for a little while even if we prefer it at 72. When we ask you to curtail, please consider what actions you can take to help your neighbor until we can weather the storm.
More information about ways you can help us conserve can be found at www.nolinrecc.com.