Decoding the power landscape: the role of Southwest Power Pool and generation cooperatives
Behind every switch you flip, every flicker of light, there’s a landscape of ‘power players,’ like Southwest Power Pool (SPP), Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) and OEC, who ensure the show goes on.
We are not far removed from the time when the rural countryside was still in the dark — it’s likely some of you might even remember a time when electricity was a luxury. It was only 86 years ago that our founding members took advantage of President Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration grant program to bring electricity to their farms and homesteads. Now, in the vast and evolving arena of the power landscape, we can appreciate how far we’ve come by peeling back the layers and delving into the mechanisms that bring light to our homes and power to our devices.
The Role of Southwest Power Pool and Generation Cooperatives
Central to understanding the power landscape is grasping the roles and benefits of organizations like SPP and WFEC. So, how do these entities operate, and why are they crucial in ensuring a stable power supply?
“At the very top level is the SPP,” said Kylah McNabb, a seasoned professional in the renewable energy sector of Oklahoma and owner of Vesta Strategic Solutions. “Their mission is monitoring power sources from generation cooperatives like WFEC, and then making sure the lights stay on and that electricity is where it’s needed most.”
The Southwest Power Pool: The Brain Behind Power Distribution
The SPP, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, is a regional transmission organization. Its origins trace back to World War II, to ensure power continuity during wartime efforts, McNabb said. Acting as a central hub, the SPP manages power across the grid, overseeing the distribution of electrons and ensuring they reach their intended destinations. This vast network requires minute-to-minute monitoring and the ability to pull power from various sources depending on demand.
“The center handles this monitoring literally from the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles all the way up to the Canadian border through the Central Plains,” McNabb said.
The Role of Generation Cooperatives
While SPP manages the power flow, generation cooperatives like WFEC play a different role. As a member of SPP, WFEC participates in policy development and aiding in managing transmission lines and generation resources.
“The SPP functions similarly to OEC in that generation cooperatives are the members,” McNabb said. “SPP informs all of their members of the real-time generation resources — like wind, solar and coal — and what its transmission needs are.”
During Winter Storm Uri in February, 2021, the SPP faced critical power generation shortages. The transmission needs exceeded production, which forced many consumers across its 14-state footprint to experience rolling blackouts. Simply put, electricity wasn’t able to be generated as quickly as it was being consumed.
Essentially, these generation cooperatives act as a bridge between SPP and local electric cooperatives, helping ensure that electricity is not just generated but also reaches the end consumer reliably.
Renewable Energy and the Future of Power
The importance of renewable energy resources can’t be overstated, as government regulations continue to affect the production from fossil fuel generation facilities. SPP has seen the explosive growth of wind power over the past 15 years and is now gearing up for the advent of solar. Its “Grid of the Future“ report aims to be forward-looking, considering the integration of new grid technologies and renewable energy sources. With battery storage projects coming online, the power landscape is evolving rapidly, and SPP is actively shaping policies to handle these new developments.
“The SPP has been one of the top regional transmission organizations in managing renewable energy,” McNabb said. “They are always actively monitoring the new markets for renewable energy, including the increase in demand for solar and then as they’re starting to see battery energy projects.”
The Local Co-Op’s Relationship with SPP
For local co-ops like OEC, the relationship with entities like SPP is indirect. They rely on generation and transmission providers to communicate and work with SPP.
“The individual distribution cooperative does not have control over situations like Winter Storm Uri,” McNabb said. “They are reliant upon their generation transmission provider, WFEC, to work with SPP to ensure a reliable power source system.”
This structure ensures that decisions made for maintaining grid reliability, even in emergencies like rolling blackouts, are handled centrally, ensuring maximum efficiency and minimal disruption for end consumers, McNabb said.
For OEC members, understanding the power landscape is not just about knowing where electricity comes from but appreciating the intricate systems and organizations that ensure its reliable delivery.
“At the heart of it all, every decision made by entities like SPP or WFEC is with the consumer in mind, ensuring that when a switch is flipped, the light comes on every single time,” McNabb said.
In this intricate tapestry of power, it’s not just about the energy generated but the dedicated ‘power players’ who ensure that every time we reach out to flip that switch, the promise of light is consistently met.
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