Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The recent weather and energy crisis in Texas shed a light on the energy grid and how it works, or rather, how it may not work under extreme circumstances. While temperatures in Iowa also reached historic lows, our energy grid functioned as it should and other states can learn from Iowa's energy leadership.
While generation sources like wind, solar, coal and natural gas have grabbed the headlines, the underlying infrastructure and transmission framework are often forgotten. While it is true that renewables, including wind, failed, the truth is, the Texas energy grid failed at many levels. From generation (including coal, wind, and natural gas), to transmission to water, the failure reached catastrophic proportions and unfortunately led to the loss of life.
In contrast, Iowa weathered the cold because of winterized generation equipment and participation in a regional transmission organization like MISO that can facilitate power-sharing across a wide multistate footprint. Our state benefited from a diversified energy portfolio, along with grid expertise that knew how to manage it during drastic weather. Our wind turbines continued to perform, along with other generation sources, to ensure the lights and heat stayed on during the subzero temperatures.
The Texas disaster underscores the need for a diversified generation portfolio. This includes energy efficiency, as energy demand reached historic heights due to the heating needs.
For Iowa, there are important lessons and take-aways from what happened in Texas. As last year's derecho taught us, the transmission is key to ensuring power makes it to homes and businesses. When transmission lines are knocked down, it does not matter where or how energy is being generated because it has nowhere to go.
Grid interconnection is key. For Texas, being part of a broader macro grid could have helped bring power in from other areas. Iowa's derecho storm taught us the importance of microgrids and locally-generated energy. While some customers in eastern Iowa were out of power for more than a week following the derecho, utilities like Farmer's Electric Cooperative in Kalona were able to restore power quickly through their own microgrid powered by solar generation.
I toured several renewable energy projects in Fairfield last year with the Iowa Conservative Energy Forum and can attest firsthand that the community is benefiting from locally sourced energy powering the grid.
As we consider power and how it is moved, we need to keep grid congestion in mind. In particular, grid experts noted the issue of regional and interregional grid congestion and constraints seen during the cold weather through the insufficient ability to move power from MISO North to MISO South, between states; and noting that more transfer capability would have been helpful between transmission organizations.
So where do we go from here?
The recent cold weather proved that Iowa has made smart investments in its energy plans. But we can't stop here, there is more work to be done to ensure we can keep the lights on for all Iowans.
States need a mix of cost-competitive energy sources, including wind and solar so we can capitalize on low fuel costs and provide more local distribution. The grid of the future, however, demands more. We also will need to focus on technology like energy storage for all generation sources and responsible energy-efficiency programs.
Meeting the ever-increasing energy demands will call for emerging generation technologies such as biogas, community solar, and more distributed resources. Coupled with increased investments in transmission infrastructure and more collaboration between grid operators, our energy grid will be more resilient and reliable in the face of natural disasters.
By harnessing our natural resources for both energy and fuel, renewables can truly power Iowa's economy. Biofuels, ethanol, wind, solar, and biogas provide a ripple of economic impact throughout our state.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa Republican, represents Iowa's 2nd Congressional District.