February 24, 2021

A statement from Barbara Sugg, Southwest Power Pool president and chief executive officer

As a grid operator tasked with ensuring the reliable delivery of electricity to a 14-state region, Southwest Power Pool experienced the most operationally challenging week we’ve ever faced in our 80-year history last week. Record-low temperatures hit the entirety of our service territory and stayed low for days on end. The result was a simultaneous increase in electricity use at the same time power producers faced fuel-supply issues and equipment malfunctions: a perfect storm that stressed the bulk electric system to its limits. And, yet, with only two short-lived exceptions, SPP kept the lights on.

I am tremendously proud of the work our operations staff did to minimize the impacts of this storm to the nearly 18 million people who live in the SPP region. They worked around the clock, day after day, to plan for every next contingency and respond to every new emergency that developed. I’m also grateful to our partners in responding to this event: our member utilities, neighboring systems, and millions of people who voluntarily made sacrifices to conserve energy in the interest of the greater good. Because of our coordinated efforts, SPP had to temporarily interrupt electric service in our region only twice: once to lessen regional energy consumption by about 1.5% for 50 minutes Feb. 15 and again to lessen it by about 6.5% for a little more than three hours Feb. 16.

To those whose local utilities curtailed your power during either of those service interruptions, I want you to know that it was only as an absolute last resort that we took that step. Last week marked the first time SPP has ever had to direct controlled interruptions of service to our entire region, and we did so only after exhausting every other option, including bringing emergency generation online, importing power from neighboring regions, and more. We understand the critical role reliable electricity plays in your everyday lives, and that to go without it, especially in a prolonged period of extreme cold, puts lives and livelihoods at risk. Know that last week, the alternative would have been far worse, and had we not deliberately lessened our regional electricity use, we could have faced outages that were longer, more widespread, and more costly in terms of both lives and economics.

This week, temperatures are milder across our region. We’ve returned to normal operations, meaning there’s plenty of generating capacity available to both meet demand and satisfy our reserve requirements. And now our attention turns to learning what we can from last week’s historic event.

Though many heard of SPP for the first time just last week, we’ve been around since 1941. Our longevity and the success of our business model — which is built on the principles of collaboration and transparency — has been dependent on facilitating win-win solutions that benefit our region as a whole. We’ll apply the same approach to making the most of the opportunities that this crisis has given us.

SPP, like the rest of our industry, is now shifting from a posture of emergency response to one of recovery and preparation for the next challenge on the horizon. We’re committed to working together with our members and across our industry to learn from the events of last week and ensure we’re all equipped to manage future crises effectively. Just like we did last week as we worked to keep electricity flowing to millions of homes, farms and businesses, we rely on our partners to help us rise to the occasion.

So while the historic winter storm of February 2021 might be done, our work is not. To our member utilities, neighbors, regulators, elected officials, and the millions of people who call the SPP region home:  We thank you for your trust in us, and we ask that you continue to partner with us to keep the lights on, today and in the future.

Derek Wingfield, 501-614-3394, dwingfield@spp.org