Extreme weather events are prompting co-ops across the country to step up their voluntary power conservation efforts, encouraging members to shift energy-intensive activities to help reduce demand during peak operating periods. In some areas, co-ops that normally plan for summer or winter peaks are seeing a need for similar measures in both seasons.

“Voluntary efforts are the most cost-effective way to control or reduce wholesale power costs," said Bryan Skogheim, director of business development and energy solutions at Freeborn Mower Electric Cooperative in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

“Grid reliability during the summer and winter is becoming a concern due to more severe weather combined with the reduction in baseload generation and not backfilling that reduction with other resources in a timely manner."

For more than 15 years, Freeborn Mower EC has encouraged members to shift summer use of major appliances and high-demand systems between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., with specific requests sent out when weather could spike demand and cause reliability or power quality issues.

“We have a group of agricultural members that participate by turning off irrigators and transferring load over to a generator," said Skogheim. “Residential members can reduce load through the co-op's water heater program, adjusting or programming their thermostat, and shifting laundry, dishwashing and dehumidification usage during peak events."

The co-op typically issues about six voluntary conservation alerts a year, but in response to directives from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which oversees regional grid operations, the need for more such requests are likely. Freeborn Mower EC has already issued calls for voluntary conservation six times since June 20.

In Vermont, where utilities are accustomed to winter peaks driven by electric residential heating, a series of heat waves over the past several years have increased air conditioning usage in the region and forced co-ops to activate conservation programs during summer as well.

“We're starting to see more concern around not just reducing peak but helping conserve during times of high regional demand for generation and transmission," said Jake Brown, an energy services planner at Vermont Electric Cooperative.

VEC issued a rare summer Beat the Peak® alert on July 5, asking members to limit use of large appliances to nighttime hours. The co-op also urged members to adjust their thermostats upward by a few degrees to reduce air conditioning costs and temporarily disconnect or turn off nonessential devices that consume electricity.

“Time of power use and the quantity of that usage will be increasingly important in the future," said Brown, citing more prolonged periods of extremely hot or cold weather. “We expect to ask members to do it more often and in different ways, using voluntary reductions in both summer and winter and participation in our electric vehicle charger and home battery deployment programs."

Many co-ops are responding to weather-driven peaks with time-of-use rates, often harnessing new broadband services to modernize their commercial, industrial and residential load-control programs. Some are also offering special rates for off-peak electric vehicle charging and help with distributed energy resources, including solar, wind and battery storage.

“As we have a higher penetration of electric vehicles, heat pumps and other electric powered devices, and as we deal with the effects of a changing climate, we are going to have to work on many fronts. Those include battery storage, off-peak EV charging and member conservation to manage load more frequently," said VEC CEO Rebecca Towne. “There's really a lot of benefit to engaging the people who want to engage with us and using our platform to stress the value of conservation and building on that organically."