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What to know about rolling blackouts during winter storms 

ELDON, Mo. — As winter storms grip the Midwest — and Texas faces millions of power outages — Missouri is trying to stay on top of the demand for energy.

Evergy Missouri initiated rolling blackouts in parts of the state Monday and Tuesday, cutting power for 30 minutes to an hour in service areas before rotating to others. Other utilities and communities followed suit, cycling power through different areas.

The Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which oversees power distribution in parts of 14 states, including Missouri and Kansas, ordered the controlled outages. SPP declared an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) on Monday, upgrading it to a level 3 warning by Tuesday morning. By midday, SPP lifted the requirement and downgraded the alert but asked customers to conserve energy and watch for further announcements as conditions develop. 

Millions in Texas were left without power Monday and Tuesday as temperatures hit record lows and snow blanketed the area in a rare winter storm. Ryan Silvey, chairman of Missouri’s Public Service Commission (PSC), said the outages were meant to keep customers in the Show-Me State from facing the same issues.

“The concept of this multi-state market is so that we have both economical energy but also to spread the risk of localized events,” Silvey told The Missouri Times. “What’s happened is the overall energy usage has exceeded the capacity to generate, and every generator in the footprint was asked to shed load. That’s why you see rolling blackouts throughout these 14 states.”

SPP is joined by another multi-state group, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), in transmitting energy to Missouri. 

Silvey and various Missouri utility companies — including Ameren, Spire, Summit Natural Gas, and Evergy — asked consumers to conserve energy and maintain the vitality of the grid Monday. Suggested changes included turning down thermostats, limiting the use of natural gas fireplaces, sealing drafty areas, letting sunlight into the home, and clearing space around heat registers to let it flow more efficiently.

“Right now, we’re seeing a highly unusual event where energy need is exceeding energy capacity,” Silvey said. “You have so much of the country in this cold snap, particularly those in our SPP region who aren’t normally using as much energy. Essentially if the entire grid can take it down a notch, it has a big impact on the overall energy that’s required. As long as they can keep below their max peak, then nobody has to have a rolling blackout.”

Silvey said Texas is powered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which is not part of any multi-state regional transmission group. Silvey said that isolation was a contributing factor to the issues the southern state is facing.

“The main difference is that we participate in these regional transmission organizations,” he said. “Because they’re wholly contained in Texas, they’re not nearly as robust as our interconnects because we’re part of a big grid system. They’re just not built to be bailed out — they can get some power from SPP, they can get some from MISO, but they’re not covered like we are in Missouri. We benefit from our membership because we can get power from somewhere else.”

Silvey also said SPP required generators to produce 12 percent more than the projected need in case of emergencies, while ERCOT does not have an excess capacity requirement. 

The cold snap is disrupting other aspects of life in Missouri as well. The state Senate paused its side of session for the week due to road conditions in the capital city, while the House canceled its activities until Wednesday. Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant is also shuttered for the week to conserve energy for the area.