SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s a historic stretch in the energy world, said Chris Studer, the chief media and public relations officer for East River Electric of Madison.

On Feb. 15, the Southwest Power Pool issued an Emergency Energy Alert Level 3 for the region it serves which includes South Dakota, parts of western Iowa and northern Nebraska. SPP also covers central states from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Level 3 means that reserve energy has fallen below required minimums and outages and/or planned blackouts are possible.

SPP manages the electric grid and wholesale power market for the central U.S., according to its website.

“It’s incredible. It’s completely unprecedented,” Studer said of the EEA Level 3. East River supplies power to 24 cooperatives and one municipal electric in eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota.

Studer said cooperatives and energy companies practice peak load management and ask consumers to conserve energy throughout the year but that’s to help offset costs. If cooperatives can save money during peak energy times when costs are highest, consumers save money.

“This is a resources (issue),” Studer said. “We could need more energy than we have the capacity to generate. It’s not price, it’s capacity.”

Managing peak energy loads are not new to the Southeastern Electric Cooperative Inc., said general manager Brad Schardin. Southeastern receives power from East River Electric and Basin Electric. The cooperative has customers in southern Sioux Falls and in rural areas such as Viborg and Alcester.

The cooperative has used a peak load management plan since 1983.

“This is impacting a bigger part of the United States than ever before,” Schardin said of the cold over the past several days including many record low temperatures on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15. “This one, in February, pushed us to the brink right away.”

Southeastern, along with thousands of other energy cooperatives and companies, has requested that customers and members reduce energy use and help offset demands in other ways.

In a Twitter post from early on Feb. 15, Sioux Valley Energy, asked its members to conserve energy to help reduce the demands on the power grid. This request comes from the Cooperative’s regional power pool—the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

A cold snap that is stretching from Canada through Texas is creating the unprecedent action. The cold is creating more demand for energy during a time when the wind is flat, so that’s not available for power.

Schardin said there aren’t enough existing batteries to store enough wind energy to help offset the demand.

The high energy demand days highlight the need for consistent, reliable sources of energy, Schardin said.

To him, that means a mix of renewable and more traditional sources such as clean coal, Schardin said.

Studer said as of Feb. 15 it’s difficult to know how consumers have curbed energy use in the East River service area. Reducing use would include not doing laundry or using appliances and others.

Southeastern can tell if consumers are participating in the peak energy management plan, Schardin said.

Under Southeastern’s peak load plan, the water heaters of participating members are turned off to help reduce the energy load, Schardin said. The cooperative has about 20,000 meters and about 8,000 to 10,000 of them can be controlled so that water heaters are turned off, he said.

Southeastern and East River also asked participating members to use generators for their energy supply.

The diesel-powered generator was running on Feb. 15 in Southeastern office in Marion, Schardin said.

Because of the extreme cold, some members had trouble starting generators on Feb. 15, Schardin said.

The cooperative’s load reduction plan has goals for each month.

“We set a monthly load strategy,” Schardin said.

The monthly loads for the past several years are reviewed so the cooperative knows the average and peak loads. The cooperative sets the goal of being below a certain number of megawatts during peak times.

On days like Feb. 15, Schardin said the cooperative can see the reduction in demand through a system of computers that monitor use.

Schardin and the cooperative do know that energy is being used for more devices and equipment than ever before. Cell phones, computer books and other devices all use energy, something that wasn’t common back in the 1980s and 1990s.

Studer said cold weather is expected to last until at least Tuesday, Feb. 16, and into Wednesday.

The weather is supposed to get warmer Thursday into Friday and the wind should also increase. Those two factors should help ease the demand and the drain on any reserve power, Studer said.