Wyoming electrical grid took last week’s Arctic Blast in stride


BRIDGER VALLEY — Residents in eastern states were told Christmas morning to turn down their thermostats and shut off their Christmas lights to avoid blackouts, and as demand for heating surged in the southeast, blackouts rolled across the region.

Wyoming utilities managed to keep the lights on for Cowboy State residents, according to a report on Cowboy State Daily by Kevin Killough.

But Andy Buntrock, vice president of strategic planning and communications for Basin Electric Cooperative, said the Southwest Power Pool, which oversees energy resources that supply parts of Wyoming, came close to losing power during the winter storm last Wednesday that brought record cold to much of Wyoming.

According to John Burbridge, chief counsel at the Wyoming Public Service Commission, Wyoming’s grid saw “nothing out of the ordinary except it was really cold.”

The state’s power plants were built to handle extreme weather – even minus 40 degree temperatures – and functioned as expected during the Arctic Blast, according to David Eskelsen, a spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power, Wyoming’s largest utility. He added, “We didn’t have any generator interruptions, specifically from weather or cold conditions.”

Close To Darkness

The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit organization that manages and evaluates the United States power grid, has an energy emergency alert system with three levels for resource inadequacy, where supplies of power fall close to or below demand, Killough reported.

Lee Boughey, a spokesperson for Tri-State Electric Generation and Transmission Association, said the nonprofit, which provides power to eight electric cooperatives across Wyoming, planned for the impacts of the storm as it approached, Cowboy Daily reported.

According to energy mix data from the Southwest Power Pool, as the storm began to move through Wyoming on Dec. 23, at 3 p.m., wind energy resources began to drop. Within 24 hours, wind energy resources were about 25% what they were prior to the storm.

They didn’t begin to rise again until Christmas morning.

Killough reported he was told Tri-State turned to its fossil fuel and hydroelectric resources to keep the lights on to compensate for the decline in wind energy.

“The big three are the coal, the natural gas and the wind. And obviously, the wind doesn’t always blow,” Buntrock said.

According to the Casper Tribune, 4,500 households and businesses in Casper and another 1,800 in Rivertn were without power shortly after the temperatures plummeted. Their outtages were caused by falled power lines, according to the utility, and electricity was restored to Casper in about six hours.

In addition, over 3,500 Rocky Mountain Power customers in Casper experienced outages due to the strong wind gusts throughout Tuesday. This also closed roads in Central Wyoming.

Video News