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‘Perfect storm’ caused stress on grid Jan. 13-14 weekend, says Neudorf

Posted on February 8, 2024 by admin

By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers

Nathan Neudorf says almost a perfect storm created the situation Jan. 13-14 when Albertans were asked to reduce electricity usage to prevent rolling blackouts across Alberta.

Sub-zero temperatures caused by a polar vortex combined with two natural gas-powered generators that stopped working because of issues combined by the cold put the province’s electrical system “in a pretty stressful situation,” said the MLA for Lethbridge East and Minister of Affordability and Utilities

Albertans quickly responded to the warnings from the Alberta Electric System Operator on Saturday and Sunday, by shutting down unnecessary electrical usage which prevented the blackouts from being implemented.

“Obviously in the winter the sun goes down earlier so right before the peak, the sun sets, we’re not getting any solar. That day, two factors: 1, it was extremely cold so wind turbines don’t typically turn and 2, there’s no wind to turn them anyway so we didn’t have that capacity,” said Neudorf.

“Then the size of the storm front encompassed B.C., Saskatchewan, Montana, Idaho – Idaho had a grid alert as well and they were pulling all surplus from Montana. B.C. wasn’t able to give us very much and normally they would give us a lot.

“Saskatchewan came through in a big way” supplying 153 megawatts which was the maximum that province could send, said Neudorf, adding “we deeply appreciate it.”

Two medium-sized natural gas generators went down because of the cold, he said.

“We had some major discussions with recommendations from the AESO, we were talking with the premier and her office, the deputy premier and the Minister of Public Safety Mike Ellis’ office and ourselves and we were at the threshold where we needed to alert Albertans and see what they could do to help.

“And Albertans came through in a huge, huge way. Within a single minute, 100 megawatts came offline and within another three or four minutes, another 100 megawatts now.”

100 megawatts is what it roughly takes to power 120,000 homes for an hour, Neudorf said.

He added roughly half a million households in Alberta turned some electricity off, a number Neudorf says is likely higher.

“That’s pretty huge. It was actually a little bit emotional for me Saturday night to look out my window and see my entire subdivision dark. So many Albertans doing their part to help alleviate that load,” he said.

That support saved the province from “a potentially difficult situation,” said Neudorf.

The Minister heard reports from across the province about the initiatives Albertans took.

“That was an absolutely incredible response. And we learned a lot. There’s more to do, we know there’s some high-rise towers and different entities that didn’t respond in quite the same way and we’ve reached out to them.”

The City of Edmonton committed Sunday night to turning down the lights in public buildings that weren’t occupied at the time which he called a huge step for municipal involvement in reducing electricity usage.

“I think we’re going to see more of that. We hope we don’t have to be in that position again anytime soon but if we are, we’ve learned a lot. And there is a bigger commitment from municipalities and commercial entities and industry across the board as well as private citizens do their bit and we’ve seen how powerful and effective it can be,” added Neudorf.

The government is doing inquiries to learn how the electrical system can be made more efficient and effective.

“Hopefully that will lead to more affordable electricity prices, as well.”

The UCP’s No. 1 priority is the health and safety of Albertans and every generator that was able to generate was doing so, said the Minister.

“There is absolutely no reason that they weren’t on unless they literally couldn’t which includes wind, includes solar, includes every generator that they have.”

Neudorf defended the province’s energy-only market which only pays for power that has been produced over a capacity market. In a capacity market, capacity is paid for whether it’s used or not which Neudorf said “just becomes very, very expensive insurance. 

“But that’s also why back in August, we asked the AESO to do a review of our market structure” so the government could make it better.

The province also asked the Market Surveillance Administrator to also review market behaviour. 

According to its website The MSA is a public agency “that protects and promotes the fair, efficient, and openly competitive operation of Alberta’s electricity and retail natural gas markets. The MSA monitors the performance of Alberta’s electricity and natural gas markets to ensure that market participants comply with all applicable electricity and natural gas legislation, the Alberta Reliability Standards, and the Independent System Operator’s rules.”

“This is exactly why when we were being called alarmists and all kinds of other names back in August for doing this work,” said Neudorf.

“This is why, it’s not that we were predicting it but anybody with a sense of direction realized it was a potential possibility. We hoped to avoid it and that’s why we’re enquiring as to what’s a better way to manage this and where do we go? And that’s partly because of the rapidity in the transition of the market. And one of the characteristics of renewables is that when it’s not windy and it’s dark outside you’re not getting anything from there,” added Neudorf, who says renewables comprises about 30 per cent of the Alberta market structure.

“Do we need to have a look at that? Obviously we do and that’s what we are doing and that’s the work that we are undertaking,” added Neudorf.

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