CLOVIS (KSMX)- The area’s electricity grid passed its biggest test of the summer when demand set an all-time record on Aug. 26, helped by big investments in the reliability of power lines and substations and a growing amount of wind energy boosting the region’s power generating resources.
“The investments we’ve made in new power lines, substations and power generating resources have better prepared us for these really hot days,” said David Hudson, president, Xcel Energy – New Mexico, Texas. “Only a decade ago, we were challenged by a shortage of electricity reserves and overloaded lines and substations, so we’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time.”
Total demand around 5 p.m. on Aug. 26 was 6,198 megawatts, beating last year’s peak demand record of 6,148 megawatts set in July 2018. A megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts, or one million watts of electricity demand.
Electricity moves at the speed of light, and power companies must instantly balance customer demand with the same amount of electricity generated at power plants. If the demand surpasses the amount of electricity being generated, utilities are forced to use controlled outages, or “rolling blackouts” to bring the system into balance. Xcel Energy’s strategic investments in the grid over the past decade have been made in order to avoid not only power shortages, but also to strengthen the systems that deliver electricity to the customers’ homes and businesses, Hudson said.
Through the Power for the Plains initiative, which began in 2011, Xcel Energy has built more than 800 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines and has built or upgraded more than 70 substations. These improvements have enabled the company to tap into a broader market for additional and often more economical power supplies, and to move that power more efficiently to areas of growing demand. Additionally, the company has upgraded neighborhood distribution systems across its Texas and New Mexico service area, which helps prevent overloaded lines on really hot days and speeds the restoration of service during storm-related outages.
A growing supply of wind energy on the system has added additional reserves of electricity while displacing higher-cost electricity generated at fossil fuel plants, saving customers millions in fuel costs. On Aug. 26, wind energy made up between 13 and 40 percent of the hourly power supply throughout the
day, with close to 1,400 megawatts of wind energy, or about 23 percent of the total mix, coming onto the system at the peak time around 5 p.m. For the entire day, wind accounted for 27 percent of the average energy mix. The rest of the electricity was supplied by natural gas and coal-fueled power plants and solar facilities, located in the Xcel Energy Texas and New Mexico service region.
“Even though wind energy doesn’t normally peak in the afternoon hours during the summer, we now have enough wind resources on the system that it often makes up a material amount of our electricity supply at the hour of peak of demand from our customers,” Hudson said.
Since June, customers have benefited from 478 additional megawatts of wind capacity from the new Hale Wind Project near Plainview, Texas. Last week, the company announced it will move forward with the Sagamore Wind Project, a 522-megawatt wind energy project south of Portales, New Mexico. Together these two wind facilities will generate enough electricity to power close to 378,000 typical homes in the region annually, and at the cheapest cost of any other generation source on the regional system. The annual cost to customers to recover the investment in the new wind farms will be eclipsed by the fuel cost savings the facilities deliver by displacing power generation from older fossil fuel plants, Hudson said.
“Long term, the benefits of investing in clean and affordable wind energy and a more resilient grid will enable business and industry to continue creating jobs in our Texas and New Mexico service area, which has among the lowest unemployment rates in the nation and continues to grow,” Hudson said. “The near- term benefits are that we can weather the hottest and coldest days with an ample supply of electricity and a system that can hold up under extreme conditions.”