- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2021

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska avoided another round of rolling power outages on Wednesday, but Gov. Pete Ricketts criticized the need for them at all this week, especially because they were partly driven by utility problems elsewhere in the region.

“These rolling blackouts are completely unacceptable,” Ricketts said. “This is the United States of America. We are not some developing nation who has an unreliable power grid.”

The Nebraska Public Power District, which serves most of the state, ultimately didn’t have to shut off anyone’s power Wednesday morning after warning earlier that more blackouts were likely. It and the state’s other major utilities imposed rolling blackouts on Monday and Tuesday after demand for electricity exceeded the supply available across parts of 14 states that share a power grid.

Utility officials said the region’s frigid temperatures created energy demand that strained the grid in the area where it is operated by the Southwest Power Pool. The situation was exacerbated by power plants in the south of the region that were ill equipped to operate in extreme cold and shortages of natural gas at some plants.

NPPD CEO Tom Kent said he regretted that the rolling blackouts were needed, but they helped the system avoid a bigger problem.

“Had this step not been taken - had utilities not been able to work to keep generation and load in balance - we could have seen a much larger, widespread, uncontrolled blackout, and that would be utterly unacceptable,” Kent said.

In Nebraska, utilities have generally been generating enough power to meet the state’s needs this week despite the extreme cold. For example, NPPD was generating 2,640 megawatts of electricity Wednesday to serve roughly 1,800 megawatts of demand in its territory, so it was sending power elsewhere in the region.

But Kent said Nebraska benefits from being part of the larger utility group because the system is more reliable overall when the load is spread over such a large area. And he said just last summer that NPPD had to rely on the grid for some power when its biggest power plant went down for repairs.

“We’re helping keeping the lights on for everyone, which is really important because there are times of the year where we’re relying on other generators maybe not in Nebraska to help us,” Kent said.

The utility industry will examine what led to this week’s rolling blackouts and look for ways to avoid them in the future. Ricketts said those conversations should include taking a look at whether the country should rely more on traditional power sources such as coal and nuclear plants.

“We have to have a conversation in this country about the power sources that are supplying energy to our power grid because we cannot have these rolling blackouts at a time when we have these frigid temperatures,” Ricketts said.

In a welcome sign, the subzero temperatures started to ease across Nebraska Wednesday morning with most low temperatures across the state at only single digits below zero. For instance, Omaha hit a low of 2 below zero Wednesday, which was much milder than the 23 below temperature it recorded Tuesday morning. High temperatures in the teens were expected Wednesday afternoon.

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