IUB seeks details on utilities’ winter preparedness plans

Board wants customers to be notified of potential electric service reductions

The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) issued an order Dec. 1 requesting information on Iowa electric utilities’ plans for addressing potential electric service load shedding on peak usage days for the upcoming winter season.

In a news release, IUB officials say they’re taking this action in the wake of a federal report issued in November that indicates a large portion of the North American Bulk Power System is at risk of insufficient electricity supplies during peak winter conditions. The assessment is based on data from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

The IUB request also asks electric utilities to explain how they intend to notify customers in the event of a peak demand day this winter.

The order opens Docket No. INU-2022-0002 to address the issues and includes a set of questions for the utilities to answer by Dec. 14. A technical conference is scheduled for 1 p.m.  Dec. 19 to allow the utilities to share their plans and answer further questions from the IUB.

On Oct. 20, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Policy and Innovation and Office of Electric Reliability issued a joint report on the 2022-2023 winter assessment. The report used preliminary data from NERC’s 2022-2023 Winter Reliability Assessment and the NERC Long Term Reliability Assessment.

NERC’s analysis shows in particular that in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (MISO) territory, reserve margins have fallen by more than 5 percent since last winter. MISO is the organization that manages the generation and transmission of high-voltage electricity across 15 U.S. states, including Iowa.  The report also indicates that some of the generation and transmission projects are impacted by component unavailability, shipping delays and labor shortages.

Taken together, the assessment from both the Commission and NERC indicates that the region served by MISO, which includes most of Iowa, is projected to have a capacity shortfall that potentially could require Iowa electric utilities to implement temporary load sheds, or reductions in electricity, to customers in peak winter conditions.

The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) is a regional transmission organization that could be impacted by the same weather conditions. As one of the regional transmission organizations tasked with the responsibilities of ensuring reliable supplies of power to Iowans, SPP directed its member utilities during a February 2021 winter storm to shed electric load in a controlled process directly impacting customers in Iowa.

Under IUB rules, each investor-owned utility is required to have a plan to notify its customers of an approaching peak demand on the day when peak demand is likely to occur. The plans are to include an explanation of what conditions will require a peak alert, general notice to the public of the peak alert, and the messages that will be sent to the public. The rule requires that the plan be made available to the IUB upon request.

The assessment report’s forecast for a possible need to shed load this winter during peak usage raises the IUB’s concern about the utilities’ plans to ensure the provision of safe and adequate electric service if this occurs. The IUB has general jurisdiction over rate-regulated electric utilities and some limited jurisdiction over electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities in Iowa under Iowa Code chapters 476 and 478.

“The IUB considers it important to understand how Iowa electric utilities plan to address the potential shortfall in electric capacity and possible need to shed load during peak usage days this winter,” the agency said in its news release.