Ready To Respond

Minnkota and its members prepare for winter demand response, estimate normal control hours

Northerners remember the January 2019 polar vortex unkindly – cars that wouldn’t start, wind that hurt the skin and dangerous overnight lows.

Fortunately for Minnkota Power Cooperative’s service territory of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, including Nodak Electric Cooperative, homes and businesses stayed warm as the power stayed on. Energy teams were able to balance overwhelming electricity needs across the region by leveraging the energy market and demand response – a technique that allows a cooperative to temporarily interrupt service to a member’s off-peak loads (electric heating, large-capacity water heaters, electric vehicle chargers, etc.) in exchange for a lower electric rate.

“If you have a polar vortex where there’s no wind, or the temperatures are so cold that the wind isn’t generating, that is going to result in demand response,” explained Todd Sailer, Minnkota senior manager of power supply & resource planning. Sailer added that wind generators start to shut down somewhere between 20 and 25 below zero, temperatures that the entire Midwest experienced for multiple days.

“The cold temperatures were over a wider area of the country, which put additional stress on our system. That led to higher electrical needs, which resulted in higher energy costs across the region,” Sailer said. “Our demand response program was very helpful in the ability for us to not only manage our costs, but also our consumer electricity needs during widespread emergency weather conditions.”

Every winter is different, but the planning team projects this year will bring a normal 200-250 hours of estimated demand response. Minnkota is typically able to cover its demand with its own energy resources. However, there are times during planned generator outages, extreme weather events or low wind supply that Minnkota must buy power.

“When the market prices are high, that’s when we initiate demand response. We’re doing it to keep costs down,” Sailer said.

The demand response system was established to avoid building more generation facilities for peak need that only comes a few times a year. That, in turn, keeps rates low for consumers. By being a part of the off-peak load control program, consumers can also take advantage of an even lower electric rate without any disruption in comfort.

Prepare for the heating season

Sailer says those on the off-peak program need to check their backup heating sources to make sure their fuel tanks are full and functioning. Minnkota will run a demand response test in early December, and members should reach out their power providers with any questions or concerns before extreme weather hits.

“The polar vortex showed that you need to make sure your systems are working properly so that when we end up in those events, everybody is able to get through it safely and without too much inconvenience,” Sailer said.

Notice to off-peak members

The off-peak program is designed to reduce electric load during peak demand times and pass energy savings on to participating members by controlling electric home heating and water heating equipment.

If during the heating season you experience a control event that seems excessively long or have no hot water, please be sure to give us a call first to determine if further help is needed.

To know if load is being controlled, visit our website at, click on “Energy Information” from the home page and then the link “Load Management Status”. When viewing the Last Switching Status graph, cells that are the color green indicating “on” means there is no load control activity, and red cells with “off’ indicate load is being controlled.

If you have any questions, please call 1-800-732-4373 or 701-746-4461.