Frequently asked questions - energy emergency

Based on questions that were submitted through various channels, we provided some information we hope is helpful in understanding the energy emergency.

What is a rotating outage?
Rotating outages are controlled, temporary interruptions of electrical service directed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) when electricity-generating resources cannot meet the electricity demand in the region. Each electric utility was asked to reduce demand in an amount directed by SPP. Decisions on which areas are affected were made within minutes.

Why did Lincoln Electric System have to participate in the rotating outages?
LES is part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), our regional reliability coordinator, that consists of 17 states in the region. LES is required to respond to SPP’s emergency events and support the system as needed. During the time frame of the rotating outages, customers without power for more than one hour were asked to report it at or 1-888-365-2412 in case the outage was one outside of this situation. Customers requiring medical devices or other technology were reminded to follow their backup plan.

When is a rotating outage necessary?
Rotating outages are necessary as a last resort to maintain the reliability of the system. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) directs rotating outages when electricity-generating resources cannot meet the electricity demand in the region.

How long will the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) directed rotating outages last?
The duration and frequency of outages depend on the severity of the event and the directions provided by SPP. Rotating outages typically last between 30-60 minutes, maybe longer, before moving to another area. The energy emergency required rotating outages on Monday, Feb. 15 and Tuesday, Feb. 16. By Saturday, Feb. 20 at 10 a.m., the energy emergency ended.

Do rotating outages happen only during the day?
No, these outages can happen at any time, day or night — when electricity-generating resources cannot meet the electricity demand in the region.

Why didn’t I receive a notice before my power was shut off for today’s (2/15/2021) rotating outage?
We understand that Monday's outage took customers by surprise. The locations of outages were determined by how much load needed to be shed as directed by SPP, which happened in minutes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to do it prior to Monday, Feb. 15, but LES did our best to get the information out through all our available channels. And, we had a map available on during the remainder of the energy emergency that showed current and next areas for rotating outages.

What if I have a medical need?
Although outages in our service area are infrequent, customers with a special medical need are reminded to make arrangements ahead of time for a battery backup or generator for medical equipment, as outages can happen from time to time, most often caused by storms. If you encounter a life-threatening emergency, call 911 immediately.

If cold weather was coming, were you planning for this?
LES, in coordination with the Southwest Power Pool, enacted standard, proactive measures to protect system reliability for the LES service area. Short, rotating outages occurred throughout the region to guard against larger outages. A rotating outage allowed LES to meet energy requirements with temporary interruptions of power. Although this is an unprecedented event, the plan was developed for use in emergency situations.

Where are you communicating this information for all customers to see?
Updates were provided on LES’ Facebook and Twitter pages, on and through local media outlets, both print and broadcast. News releases were written and dispersed to keep our customers informed. LES thanks local media for their coverage of the event to help our customers stay in-the-know.

Why is it important to conserve energy during this time?
Energy conservation is critical during this time due to low temperatures that are causing increased electricity and natural gas usage. The higher usage put a significant strain on these systems that could have caused service reliability issues. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP), LES’ regional reliability coordinator, notified utilities within its regional footprint that energy curtailments were necessary. Such reductions are used to balance the supply and demand of electricity in the region.

Will there be more rotating outages?
Locations of controlled outages are determined by load shed requirements from the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which happens in minutes. As of 10 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, the energy emergency was concluded.

Why don’t you shut off the heavy users (businesses) before residential?
The two cycles of controlled outages that occurred impacted both residential and business customers. We are unable to segment out different addresses within a circuit.

What is the Southwest Power Pool (SPP)?
It’s important to understand that most of the functions that SPP provides are nothing new and have been around for decades. The electrical grid is interconnected, and we have been relying on our neighbors (and they on us) well before becoming a part of SPP.

SPP provides multiple services for LES and its region (parts of 14 states from North Dakota down to the north part of Texas). Those services include Balancing Authority (balancing the current load with generation), Transmission Planner (determining where new transmission needs to be built), Energy Market Operator (determining which units should be on to reduce costs and maintain reliability) and Reliability Coordinator (making sure the system remains reliable and stable for the region). 

The Reliability Coordinator role for SPP is the part of SPP that is currently directing load reductions for each load-serving entity within the region. With extreme and extended cold weather across the entire SPP footprint (and most of the U.S.), there is a lack of ability for all load at peak times to be served by available generation. All entities within SPP are being asked to do their part to reduce load such that available generation can serve the load. Without this type of load reduction, the electrical system across all of the eastern half of the U.S. could become unstable and all loads would be unable to be served. This coordination of reliability for the entire region is a large benefit for LES and all entities like LES that serve load. 

Why does LES belong to the Southwest Power Pool (SPP)?
Around 2008, LES, NPPD and OPPD reviewed the benefits provided by SPP, determined them to be significant, and so the three utilities became members in 2009. Prior to joining SPP, LES used to depend solely on neighboring utilities, buying and selling power directly with those utilities, which allowed us to maintain reliability and low costs. However, when neighboring utilities decided to join SPP or similar organizations, direct purchases and sales between entities stopped. This meant that without being a part of an organization like SPP, LES and the other Nebraska utilities could have been in a position to operate only amongst themselves. This would have made reliability and cost control much more difficult. Looking at a current map of SPP and similar nearby organizations (such as the Midwest Independent System Operator, or MISO), you can see that would be the case today.

What benefits does LES get for belonging to the Southwest Power Pool (SPP)?
As a member of SPP, LES currently gets access to lower cost load energy, the ability to sustain service during LES generator outages, and the ability to add larger amounts of renewable resources to our portfolio. 

Prior to joining SPP, LES has had instances where large LES generators have tripped during cold weather times and hot weather times, making it very difficult to manage LES’ load requirements. At times, the loss of that generation could be very difficult for LES to manage, in part because other entities were also concerned about meeting their own load. However, those instances are no longer as eventful as SPP plays that role of making sure that all generation and load is balanced, and LES no longer has to do that on its own.

Will my bill be higher this month?  
Because LES did not change its rates (LES rates haven’t been changed since 2017), any increase in your bill is most likely tied to increased energy use during the severe cold weather. Early review of the weather data and consumption during the past two weeks of February would indicate residential customers may see increases because of increased energy usage caused by average temperatures that were 15 degrees lower than last year.

How much did the energy emergency cost LES?    
At this time, it is too early to determine the exact financial impact of the event. However, because we were generating more power than our load during those event days, we believe that we will break even on our costs from wholesale purchasing and selling during that event.