PSC commissioners blackout warnings baseless, utility says | New

No, MDU’s eastern Montana customers are not at risk of summer outages, contrary to a press release issued Thursday by the Montana Public Service Commissioners.

Clarifying the after-hours issue, Montana Dakota Utilities said they have adequate power supply and do not expect any power outages resulting from heat waves in the middle of the United States. MDU has 26,000 electric customers in eastern Montana, including Sidney, Glendive and Baker.

“The bottom line: The company has sufficient production resources to meet its peak needs,” MDU’s Mark Hanson said in an email. “While we don’t anticipate any issues and a power outage or hard load shedding event is not likely, there is always a possibility of it happening.”

The problem is an alarming afternoon announcement by Montana utility regulators in which commissioners Randy Pinocci and Tony O’Donnell cite “the likely lack of power leading to ‘blackouts’ in the eastern Montana this summer as well as frightening possibilities of extremely inadequate shortages in Montana in the winter.

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Commissioners specifically identify MDU customers in Montana as being at risk, this after the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation, or NERC, identified the regional transmission utility to which MDU belongs as facing a capacity shortfall in its areas. north and central. MDU uses the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, a transmission system that stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

On Friday, Civil Service Commission staff pointed out that the majority of the commission did not agree with the blackout notice. One commissioner recalled refusing to sign the notice when given the opportunity.

The PSC regulates the monopolies, specifically the state’s largest utilities, NorthWestern Energy and MDU. As such, the PSC affects the household budgets of more than 400,000 Montana utility customers. These customers are legally recognized as “captives”, which means they have no choice in the open market to seek a better deal.

The commission is responsible for ensuring captive customers reliable and reasonably priced electricity and natural gas service, while ensuring that utilities receive a fixed rate of return.

NERC’s cautionary advisory for MISO was issued in May as part of its “Summer 2022 Reliability Assessment.” The report is not a commentary on current weather events. It’s worth noting that at least since 2018, NERC has advised summer power reliability versus coal and nuclear plant shutdowns.

Tony O’Donnell, Member of the Public Service Commission.

Billings Gazette MIKE CLARK

Similarly, MISO did not issue warnings about the summer blackout in its service area, although it issued a two-day hot weather alert on July 20 for the southern part of its footprint. .

MDU said that because it is in the far northwest part of MISO, utility customers are unlikely to be caught in a heat-related power shortage further south. Cutting the power so far north probably won’t help. North Dakota is an energy exporter, meaning it sells more electricity to other utilities than it buys, providing another buffer against power outages in d other parts of the country served by MISO, according to MDU.

Blackout warnings aside, the purpose of the commissioners’ announcement was to express their loyalty to coal-fired power and specifically to the Colstrip Power Plant, a generator in southeastern Montana facing a future uncertain as the majority of its owners prepare to ban coal power in Washington and Oregon.

“If the Washington and Oregon legislatures don’t want to use any of our icky electrons, that’s their choice, but there’s simply no resource other than Colstrip that’s big enough and reliable enough to stop the Montanains of calamity in the extreme cold that Montana is well known for,” O’Donnell said, in the PSC announcement. The commissioners implored “heads of state to do whatever may be necessary to conserve Montana’s last major baseload power plant”. They warned that if Colstrip was not saved, Montanese would freeze to death during the winter months when electricity demand was at its peak, which NorthWestern Energy, which owns a 15% share of Colstrip, also suggested.

MDU has no stake in Colstrip. The power plant also does not supply electricity to MISO.

O’Donnell told Lee Montana Newspapers that the commissioners had not been in contact with MDU to find out if the utility expected any outages. On Colstrip, he said he supported NorthWestern Energy buying more of the coal-fired power plant, which Northwestern tried to do unsuccessfully in 2020. O’Donnell said he would like also see 40 year power plant coal ash supply. used as an ingredient in concrete, and also be mined for rare earth minerals.

More recently, NorthWestern has launched plans to build a gas-fired power plant near Laurel, the capacity of this plant is slightly smaller than the company’s share in Colstrip. Earlier this year, NorthWestern announced its intention to move away from fossil fuels, initially adding new fossil fuel assets to its portfolio for only 13 years. Second, the utility plans to decommission four coal-fired power plants in the 2040s.

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