With news of large-scale power-grid failures in Texas making headlines in the past week, residents of the Northland on the Minnesota Power dual fuel program might have their own concerns about the local power grid. Residents on the plan, such as Angie Miller, have had their electric heat cut once or twice a day, four to five hours at a time for the past 10 or 11 days.
But according to Frank Fredrickson, vice president of customer service at Minnesota Power, this is fairly typical for a cold snap.
"The interruptions we’re having this winter are pretty typical to other winters where we’ve had cold events such as the 2018 polar vortex," Fredrickson said.
The dual fuel program is a discounted electric rate program that's been in place for the past 40 years. It's designed to reduce the cost of electricity for customers to heat their homes by providing an interruptible rate, according to Fredrickson. It also helps reduce costs for all customers because it can be interrupted during peak energy demand times when energy costs are high and the energy is not plentiful.
It's a voluntary program for which customers sign up. In order to qualify, residents must have a backup heat source such as a propane or wood fireplace. Residents are also given notice 24 hours prior to an interruption in order to allow for time to prepare their alternate source of heat.
For Miller, her alternate source is a propane fireplace, which she said has been able to keep her house fairly warm. Her concern wasn't so much for her own home but the electric grid as a whole.
"I've lived in my dual fuel house for six and a half years and I think during that time, and my memory might not be right, but I can only remember three times in all those years that they’ve had an interruption," Miller said. "Now we've had several in a row, which makes me think, not so much about individual impacts, but whether or not our grid is as stable as we think it is?"
Fredrickson stated that it is stable, as it's just one small part of Minnesota Power's overall power plan.
"We have a reliable system and we plan for winter events just like this. We take reliability very seriously for our customers and make sure that we have energy resources for those customers who are signed up for firm service," Fredrickson said. "It is weather dependent how often we interrupt, but it is normal for us to interrupt our dual fuel customers when we get into these extreme cold events."
Dual fuel customers make up roughly 10,000 of Minnesota Power's 145,000 northeastern and north central customers, or a little less than 10%.
"And we typically interrupt 50-100 hours per year," Fredrickson said. "Though, we could interrupt up to 30% of the time throughout the year, as that's what the agreement outlines. But normally, I'd say we interrupt much, much less than that. Except when we have these extreme conditions and we have more demand on our system."
If customers have an emergency where their backup heat option malfunctions or if their living situation changes and don't have a functioning backup system, they should contact Minnesota Power.
In the meantime, keep your stack of firewood high if you have dual fuel. Fredrickson said as a dual fuel customer, he's gone through a lot of firewood in the past two weeks.