Extreme temperatures cause regional issues in energy consumption

BY CORIE LYNN

For the past week, Kansas, like many surrounding states, has dealt with below-freezing temperatures.

Monday saw a daily high of 4 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of -13 degrees. On this same day, residents of Kansas City experienced involuntary planned shut-offs, otherwise known as rolling blackouts.

Mike Morley, director of corporate communications and government affairs at Midwest Energy, Inc., explained that the Hays area has seen freezing temperatures such as these but not for this extended period.

Because of this, the region, not just Hays, is experiencing an energy shortage.

As Morley explained, the wellheads that typically provide natural gas for the area froze.

“There’s just not gas out there,” he said.

Besides this lack of gas, the cold weather has brought a reduced amount of wind. This has meant that the Hays area has not been able to rely on energy from wind turbines to replace the lost gas energy.

With residents across Kansas running heating systems to combat the cold weather, this energy shortage becomes a greater problem.

Keith Dreher, Fort Hays State University’s director of energy management, has seen this energy strain firsthand.

“We are using diesel fuel in our boilers to reduce demand on pipelines and doing what we can to reduce electrical demand,” Dreher said, “assisting Midwest Energy by running our diesel generators, when called to do so. Today we are running wind to help with the situation.”

Dreher and the FHSU’s Facilities Department has been gauging campus energy consumption by the amount of fuel consumed per day, which is calculated at 3200 gallons.

Some of the energy consumption issues at the University-level will subside by Thursday. This will be aided by the warmer temperatures that have been forecasted for the latter part of the week, but campus residents can make individual changes to reduce energy consumption.

“Turn down your thermostat a couple degrees. Turn off unnecessary equipment,” Dreher said.

On a larger scale, Midwest Energy, Inc. addresses energy issues according to emergency levels issued by the Southwestern Power Pool.

According to Morley, at a level two emergency, the SPP reaches out to ask that a certain amount of energy consumption be reduced. At a level three, the SPP requests involuntary planned shut-offs, such as those experienced in Kansas City.

Hays did reach a level three on Monday but has spent much of the time in a level two.

Morley explained, however, that they plan to not conduct involuntary shut-offs for the city of Hays. Should a shut-off be required, it would be directed toward oil fields rather than the city.

“We’re trying to get all of our energy assets online,” he said. “We do have plans in place.”

As Midwest Energy, Inc. continues to address the energy shortage, they take into account the history of consumption in the region, among other factors, that are then fed into an algorithm that will calculate the amount of wattage needed for that given time.

That is the energy provided, which balances the energy load against the area’s consumption.

“[That energy] has to be consumed right away,” Morley said.

Even with the precisely-calculated system in place, Morley said that the current shortage shows the need for a broader, more multi-generational look at the way energy is used, both in the region and across the country.

“[Hopefully], it will prompt discussion at the national level on energy policy,” he said.

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