Part 1 of a special series on Resource Adequacy issues.

Distribution power pole on a frosty winter morning in the Flathead Valley

Resource Adequacy Defined:
Will there be enough power and adequate transmission to maintain balanced supply and demand across the electric grid?

You already know that electricity plays an essential role in everyday life. We depend on it to keep us warm in the bitterly cold Montana winters. Electricity runs the wells that keep our stock watered and our Stanley cups full. Grandma might depend on it for life support equipment. If the power goes out, even briefly, our lives can be disrupted.

The system that delivers your electricity is often described as the most complex machine in the world, and it’s known as the electric grid. What makes it so complex? We all use different amounts of electricity throughout the day, so the supply and demand for electricity is constantly changing. For example, we typically use more electricity in the mornings when we’re starting our day, and in the evenings when we’re cooking dinner and using appliances.

The challenge is to plan for, produce, and purchase enough electricity so it’s available exactly when we need it. Too much or too little electricity in one place can cause big problems, like blackouts and brownouts. Northwestern Montana is the last best place, but it’s not immune to these challenges. So, to make sure the whole system stays balanced, the electric grid must adjust in real time to changes and unforeseen events.

Look up, and you might see your electric grid. It’s a network of power lines, transformers, substations, and other infrastructure. Our local grid is interconnected with our regional grid, which you can think of as beginning at the turbines at the Hungry Horse and Libby dams and stretching out through the Columbia River basin to the Pacific Ocean near Portland. In the Pacific Northwest, we are largely powered by water, and our grid geographically reflects this.

In turn, our regional grid is interconnected to the three major grids that link most of the United States together: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. These grids operate independently but are linked to allow electricity to be transferred between regions when backup support is required.

Now that we’ve laid the foundation for how electric grids are connected, we need to learn about how they actually transport electricity, and how that electricity is generated. Check back soon for more Grid 101.

Visit “Urgent Threats to Future Power Supply” on our website to learn more about current issues impacting the affordability and reliability of our grid.

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