Summertime Sizzler Extreme heat conditions stressing Arkansas’ power grid

August 1-7, 2022

By Wesley Brown


As extreme hot weather presents special challenges across the region, utility and grid operators are closely monitoring the power grid and recent demand spike to ensure local residents and businesses stay cool.


With average daily temperatures in July at 92 degrees and several recent daily heat advisories well over 105-plus, Arkansans are entering August hoping to get some relief from dangerously hot temperatures that are putting an extra load on the local and regional power grid.


Among the nation’s nine independent system operators (ISOs) or regional transmission organizations (RTOs) that are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) monitor a sizable portion of the nation’s power grid from their state-of-the-art command centers in west Little Rock. 


In April, MISO officials issued a public warning that it had insufficient power generation resources to meet the 2022 summer peak demand with warmer-than-normal temperatures forecasted throughout the grid operator’s footprint. Based in Carmel, Ind., the RTO operates a 50,000-square-foot operations center that oversees the grid operator’s South region’s footprint, including Entergy’s operating subsidiaries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.


According to MISO officials, the summer peak forecast is 124 gigawatts (GW) with 119 GW of projected regularly available generation within MISO, which manages generation and transmission of high-voltage electricity across 15 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. MISO’s all-time record peak load is 127 GW set on July 20, 2011.


On June 21, MISO said it was closely monitoring and responding to the challenging operating conditions stemming from high electricity demand after the RTO reached a new year-to-date market peak load of 122 GW. At the time, MISO said it had already taken actions to enhance the availability of resources and to put local utilities on alert that conditions may require additional actions including utilizing emergency operating procedures.


“Using emergency operating procedures is typical during challenging grid conditions,” said Jessica Lucas, MISO’s executive director of system operations. “Issuing an emergency declaration is an important step when it comes to keeping the power flowing. It provides operators access to resources that are unavailable under normal grid conditions.”


MISO’s preparation for the summer season included training and conducting exercises with member companies such as Entergy Arkansas and other Entergy Corp. subsidiaries to prepare for the worst-case scenarios and to implement lessons learned and best practices. During real-time operations, officials said that unplanned outages and other variables may require additional actions to maintain grid reliability.


“We closely monitor the many challenges the summer season can bring and coordinate with our members and other grid operators for situational awareness,” said Jessica Lucas, MISO’s executive director of system operations. “Our members provide us with the details to determine our operational needs and we anticipate tight operating conditions this summer based on their insights.”


MISO’s warning about possible summer power disruptions occurred a month after NERC’s annual Summer Reliability Assessment put the Indiana RTO in the “high risk” category of facing capacity shortfalls during both normal and extreme conditions due to generator retirements and increased demand. 


Based in Atlanta, NERC is the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) for all of North America, subject to oversight by FERC and Canadian energy regulators. NERC’s jurisdiction includes energy users, owners and operators of the North American power grid, which serves nearly 400 million people in Canada and U.S. 


At the start of the summer, NERC officials said MISO will be without a key transmission line connecting its northern and southern areas was damaged by a tornado in December 2021. NERC’s summer risk scenario analysis also shows that SPP, Texas, Saskatchewan and Western Interconnection are at “elevated risk” of energy emergencies during extreme conditions.


On July 13, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asked all state residents and businesses to conserve electricity voluntarily. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers, representing about 90% of the state’s electric load. Following mass outages in the winter of 2022 that left millions of Texans without energy, state and federal regulators investigated and issued a list of recommendations in November 2021 to prevent future blackouts.


In their recent assessment of the potential rolling blackouts this summer, NERC said extended drought conditions present varied threats to capacity and energy across the country.


“Industry prepares its equipment and operators for challenging summer conditions. However, persistent, extreme drought and its accompanying weather patterns are out-of-the-ordinary and tend to create extra stresses on electricity supply and demand,” said Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of reliability assessments. “Grid operators in affected areas will need all available tools to keep the system in balance this summer. Over the longer term, system planners and resource adequacy stakeholders need to keep potentially abnormal weather conditions like these in mind so that we continue to have a reliable and resilient bulk power system.” 




Although it is headquartered in Arkansas, SPP now only serves a small portion of the Natural State after Entergy Arkansas exited its system agreement with the Arkansas RTO and joined MISO’s network. Today, SPP still manages the electric grid across 17 central and western U.S. states and provides energy services on a contract basis to customers in both the Eastern and Western Interconnections. 


In early May, SPP said it expects to have enough generating capacity to meet the regional demand for electricity through the summer season. Through the end of September, SPP said it anticipates that the demand for electricity will peak at 51.1 GW and also studied scenarios with higher-than-expected demand. 


The Little Rock grid operator said its diverse fleet of member utilities’ conventional and renewable generating resources would be prepared to serve at least 55.5 GW, considering both planned and a margin of unplanned outages. 


“SPP’s job is to prepare for both expected and unexpected scenarios that could affect electric reliability across our region,” said SPP Senior Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew. “We work closely with our member utilities to make sure our forecasts are as dependable as they can be, and then maintain contingency plans and monitor the regional grid around the clock so we can respond quickly and effectively if things don’t go as planned. We know how much the 18 million people in our region depend on our services, and we do everything in our power to responsibly and economically keep the lights on.”


On July 5, SPP’s region also reached a new all-time peak load of 51,090 megawatts (MW), exceeding the previous record for instantaneous demand for electricity of 51,036 MW set July 28, 2021. Highlighting the key role fuel diversity plays in ensuring electric reliability, at the time of the new record SPP relied on a mix of energy sources including traditional fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear power and other types of generation. Demand response contributed 1.1 MW to the fuel mix, officials said.


Days in advance of the Fourth of July holiday, SPP said it anticipated high electricity use across its region during a period of extreme heat. On Friday, July 1, it declared a Conservative Operations Advisory, effective at noon July 6 through 10 p.m. July 8. This advisory signaled to its member utilities a need to operate the regional grid with extra care by doing things like postponing maintenance on critical facilities, increasing reserve requirements and more. SPP and its members maintained reliability through two of the hottest days of the year, as regional load peaked at 49,972 MW on July 6 and 50,230 MW on July 7.


“We’re proud of the job we do coordinating among our member utilities to keep the lights on through careful reliability coordination, thoughtful and thorough system planning, and administration of a stakeholder process that ensures mutually beneficial decisions are made regarding things like resource adequacy, cost allocation and market design,” said Rew.


SPP said it does so by monitoring and forecasting minute-by-minute electricity use and dispatching energy from more than 900 utility-owned generating units to meet demand. SPP also oversees the operation of more than 70,000 miles of extra-high-voltage transmission lines over which electricity flows from where it’s produced to the substations where it’s distributed by local utilities to homes and businesses. As the summer progresses, SPP said it would continually monitor changing conditions and threats to reliability. 




Meanwhile, Entergy Arkansas and its New Orleans-based parent, Entergy Corp., are introducing a number of programs to assist customers who are seeing some of the highest electric bills ever due to record natural gas prices and June’s higher-than-normal temperature, which also drove recovery energy usage. Those higher energy costs, combined with across-the-board inflation, is causing a major financial strain on many of the utility operator’s customers in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, officials said.


To ease the pain of higher energy bills, and in consultation with our regulators, Entergy is implementing a series of measures to help our residential customers and communities through the high usage summer months, including:


Committing $10 million in shareholder donations applied to all Entergy utilities for bill payment assistance programs for residential customers, including The Power to Care fund.


• Waiving past due payment fees for eligible residential customers.


• Waiving credit card payment fees for all residential customers.


•Organizing employee volunteers to conduct energy efficiency and weatherization events in select neighborhoods.


“We understand the economic challenges our customers and communities are currently facing,” said David Ellis, chief customer officer for Entergy. “We also recognize we’re responsible for something greater than just powering homes and businesses every day. After all, we’ve been members of our community for more than 100 years. We are doing more to help our customers through these challenging economic times.”


In Arkansas, Entergy said it received donations of $581,928 in 2021 through its “The Power to Care” program, which helped more than 1,200 senior citizens and customers with disabilities keep their lights on. 


Funded by donations and Entergy shareholders, the program provides emergency bill payment assistance for elderly and disabled customers, who are typically on a fixed income and therefore more greatly impacted by utility costs. In 2021, The Power to Care provided $3.1 million in assistance to more than 9,000 customers across the company’s four-state territory.


“Our focus on helping the most vulnerable is rooted in the reality of the communities we serve, because 25% of the three million residential customers across all Entergy service areas live in poverty,” said Liz Brister, manager of low-income customer initiatives and financial assistance.


Entergy Arkansas provides electricity to approximately 728,000 customers in 63 counties. Companywide, the New Orleans utility giant provides electricity to 3 million utility customers across its four-state footprint.  


Photo Captions:


1.  Power transmission operators, utilities on high alert as summer heat wave, power demand stresses energy grid


2. Grid operators at MISO's (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) state-of-the-art command center in west Little Rock manage the generation and transmission of high-voltage electricity across 15 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Manitoba.


3. Amid construction in Little Rock's downtown River Market, hot and humid conditions saw the city's heat index exceed 105 in the last week of July, according to the National Weather Service.


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