Fuel Prices Could Affect Load Control

Slightly higher wholesale market prices, in particular propane, entering the heating season could impact the number of load control hours for Nodak Electric Cooperative off-peak members in winter 2018-19. Minnkota is Nodak Electric’s wholesale power supplier.

“As those prices go up, the market follows those trends, and you see more control,” said Todd Sailer, Minnkota Power Cooperative senior manager of power supply and resource planning.

Sailer said Minnkota, your cooperative’s wholesale energy supplier, estimates 200 to 250 hours of dual-heat load control this winter. This compares to the 10-year average of 170 hours.

Last year’s total of 60 control hours shows that moderate temperatures and low market conditions can combine to result in a small amount of control hours.

Other than the natural gas and propane prices inching up, Minnkota’s demand response outlook is similar to the 2017-18 forecast. The unknown is possible forced outages at Minnkota and elsewhere in the wholesale energy market.

“Market price volatility is driven by fuel prices, weather and generator outages. These events drive the majority of the control hours,” Sailer said.

Minnkota has the ability to control up to 350 megawatts through its demand response system. This includes dual-fuel systems, temporarily controlling storage heating systems, large-capacity water heaters, home vehicle chargers and large industrial consumers with backup generators. Millions of dollars have been saved due to the successful operation of Minnkota’s load management system for about 40 years.

Two outages could have an impact on the number of load control hours. Unit 1 of the Milton R. Young Station is offline until early November after a major outage was extended for damage discovered during the outage. Also, Coyote Station has an outage scheduled to begin March 29 and last into May.

“Any time you have a generator out, you’re exposed more to the market,” Sailer said. “Right now we have some scheduled outages for the first part of November and then again in the spring. We typically do not schedule maintenance in the January and February time frame when we’re at peak conditions. That’s where the unplanned or forced outages come into play.”

During outages and periods of peak electric demand, Minnkota’s first option is to purchase energy from the power market. If the timing is not right and affordable power is not available, off-peak loads are temporarily controlled. The savings are passed on to retail consumers through the lower off-peak heating rate.

“Controlling load during these periods protects consumers from the volatility of the market and prevents the need to build new power plants just to serve peak loads,” Sailer said.

An off-peak system consists of an electric heating source as its primary component. A supplemental heating source must operate several hundred hours or more during the winter season. Sailer said members with a well-maintained backup heating system should not notice a difference in comfort level when their off-peak heating system is controlled.

Incentives for heating, charging equipment

As part of its Value of Electricity campaign, Minnkota works with its member cooperatives and participating municipals to offer incentives for the installation of electric heating, water heating and charging equipment.

A recent addition is incentives for the installation of electric vehicle charging equipment on the off-peak program. It calls for a $50 per kilowatt rebate for Level 2 chargers that are 240 volts. The maximum rebate is $500.

“One of the things that is new to our program that we’re really promoting is the electrical vehicles,” Sailer said. “We see it as a benefit for the consumer and the co-ops. It’s just another good load in our demand response program.”