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Could widespread grid failure impact Utah this summer?

Power lines run through Roy on Nov. 30, 2021. A summer reliability assessment for 2022 puts a huge chunk of the United States at risk for potential grid failure — meaning the lights won't come on and the hum of air conditioners will go silent.

Power lines run through Roy on Nov. 30, 2021. A summer reliability assessment for 2022 puts a huge chunk of the United States at risk for potential grid failure — meaning the lights won't come on and the hum of air conditioners will go silent. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A summer reliability assessment for 2022 puts a huge chunk of the United States at risk for potential grid failure — meaning the lights won't come on and the hum of air conditioners will go silent.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a nonprofit organization, said the Midwest in particular is at high risk for its energy reserves meeting demands.

Where are the potential problems: The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) is at "high" risk of its energy reserves falling short of its normal energy needs. MISO provides energy transmission for the Midwest, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Texas and the western U.S. — meaning Utah — are at "elevated risk" of seeing grid shortages should power needs peak beyond normal volumes, according to the report by the organization.

Drought in the West is pushing hydropower operations into a precarious situation. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it will reduce the amount of water flowing from the Colorado River into downstream states by 500,000 acre-feet so the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell can continue to generate power. The power generated by the Utah dam, like the water from the Colorado River, serves states like California.

The twin evils of extreme heat and cold: The report noted that last year, the grid operator asked Texans to reduce their usage amid a June heat wave, just months after a February 2021 freeze forced widespread blackouts. "In hot conditions, grid shortages introduce a number of heat-related health risks to vulnerable communities, beyond the day-to-day discomfort of being asked to raise one's thermostat to 78 degrees, as Texans were asked to do."

Grid reliability is an increasing concern in the United States due to a number of issues that include aging infrastructure, extreme weather events, wildfires and more.

Good news for Utah: It's much more unlikely that a widespread grid failure could happen in Utah, according to Rocky Mountain Power's Dave Eskelsen, because the state's grid structure is so different from that of Texas and the Midwest.

Rocky Mountain Power's parent company is PacifiCorp, which is the largest grid owner and operator in the West, serving six states, including Utah.

Because of that, Utah enjoys the benefit of being part of a large, diverse grid in which there are multiple power purchase contracts in place should generation in one state fail.

In addition, PacifiCorp is a member of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which exists to ensure a reliable grid for 14 Western states, two Canadian provinces and a portion of northern Mexico.

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The WestUtah droughtUtah wildfiresUtahU.S.
Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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