Power company confident it can meet demand


CASPER — Rocky Mountain Power is confident it can handle the heat.

With temperatures expected to rise again in Wyoming this weekend — though not to such extremes as the record-breaking highs seen recently in the Pacific Northwest — Rocky Mountain Power, which supplies electricity to about 70 percent of the state, is prepared.

The utility’s practice of forecasting maximum electricity demand and upgrading its infrastructure accordingly means it’s equipped to keep the lights on and the air conditioning running, even on the hottest summer days.

“We know how our system’s going to behave, and we have years and years of data on how our customers are going to behave in hot weather,” said Tiffany Erickson, media relations manager for Rocky Mountain Power.

The utility’s forecasts aren’t analyzing weather patterns. Instead, they gauge maximum capacity — the electricity that would be needed if every building were to use as much energy as it could. Past weather patterns factor into its planning. So does climate change. Forecasting for peak demand means that when record-breaking temperatures do inevitably arrive, the electric grid will be ready.

Each fall, Rocky Mountain Power’s engineers review new developments to ensure that they’re accurately estimating those areas’ maximum electricity usage. If they identify distribution lines that could become overloaded during times of high demand, the utility will replace those lines in the spring, before the summer heat arrives.

“We do make a concerted effort to just educate customers on what they can do to save on energy costs in the summer, to conserve energy, but not because we’re looking at brownouts or blackouts or anything like that,” Erickson said.

New, high-density housing in populous places like Salt Lake City can be particularly vulnerable to overloading and blackouts when demand rises sharply. But in Wyoming, where people are fewer and farther between and electricity generation is readily available, that sort of overloading is rarely a concern.

The state’s power supply doesn’t share the vulnerabilities that have caused sweeping blackouts in other states, such as the power crisis in Texas this February, when a lack of infrastructure winterization coupled with skyrocketing demand for heat overwhelmed utilities.

Still, like in all mechanical systems, things will break, said Shane Sibrel, Rocky Mountain Power’s regional business manager. “But with the redundancies that we’re fortunate enough to have, it’s rarely an issue for us.”

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