Driving The Dialogue On Grid Reliability

With grid challenges coming into focus, our local power leaders are working to chart a path forward. 

Minnkota CEO Mac McLennan discusses grid reliability at the Midwest Energy Summit on June 8 in Fargo. Photo courtesy of Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber.

In the wake of devastating outage events over the past year – from a heatwave that crippled California’s electric grid to a February deep freeze that left Texas without power for days – leaders of Minnkota Power Cooperative (Nodak’s power provider) have been communicating the importance of grid reliability and resiliency with the nation’s top regulators and policymakers. As the electric utility sector navigates one of its most transformational periods, questions remain on how ambitious environmental goals may affect affordable and dependable service. 

“It is an exciting time for our industry, but it can also be daunting,” Mac McLennan, Minnkota president and CEO, told members of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy during a June 23 hearing. “We all want to push for it to be a better product – more reliable, more resilient, affordable for every household and as clean as possible. To reach these goals, we need to work together.” 

About 42% of Minnkota’s generation capacity comes from carbon-free sources such as wind and hydropower. Although Minnkota has added a significant amount of renewable energy, coal remains a critical resource to ensure reliability. 

Stacey Dahl (foreground), Minnkota’s senior manager of external affairs, updates EPA Administrator Michael Regan (far right) on Project Tundra.

North Dakota energy leaders, policymakers and regulators discussed lessons learned from recent national outage events during the Midwest Energy Summit on June 8 in Fargo, where McLennan participated in a panel focused on grid reliability. 

While North Dakota is looking for solutions to ensure its residents have 24/7 power, it is part of two multi-state grids where the decisions of other entities have enormous impacts. Minnkota participates in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) market, where renewables currently account for about 10% to 12% of the grid’s resources. MISO Executive Director of External Affairs Brian Tulloh said challenges begin to emerge as that percentage increases. 

“We begin to see, at above about 30% renewable energy penetration, significant stability issues in the grid,” Tulloh said, referencing MISO’s Renewable Integration Impact Assessment. 

Grid stability challenges quickly become an issue of public safety and security, North Dakota Public Service Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak said. “What I took away from the February event was if we don’t have power, our society quickly becomes pretty unmanageable,” she said. 

Minnkota also recognizes the need to make reductions in carbon dioxide (CO) emissions. The cooperative and its members are currently evaluating Project Tundra – an effort to install carbon capture technology at the coal-based Milton R. Young Station near Bismarck, N.D. 

Stacey Dahl, Minnkota senior manager of external affairs, provided an overview of Project Tundra during a June 3 meeting with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan. Regan said the Biden administration has a “positive viewpoint” of carbon capture technology. 

“There’s no doubt there’s huge potential,” he said of carbon capture during his visit. “And right here in North Dakota we’re seeing leadership.”