Cold weather in the Midwest at the end of January led to high — but not record-setting — electricity load on Jan. 30, 2019, the coldest day of the period, on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) grid.

However, natural gas consumption, the main fuel used in the region for heating, reached estimated record levels that same day. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that natural gas and electricity prices were elevated but did not reach levels seen during previous cold weather events.

EIA said that compared with the 2018 "bomb cyclone" and the 2014 "polar vortex" weather events, the January 2019 cold snap was colder. Upper Midwest temperatures dropped to as low as -20 to -45° F. However, hourly electricity load in MISO peaked at 100.9 gigawatts (GW) on Jan. 30, based on early data, EIA said. That compared with 100 to 104 GW during the 2018 bomb cyclone and MISO’s all-time winter peak of 109.3 GW during the 2014 polar vortex.

Source: EIASource: EIAPeak electricity loads during the January cold snap were lower than expected because of the deployment of load-modifying resources in MISO (which includes demand response and behind-the-meter generation), other voluntary load management actions and the wide closure of schools and businesses, which reduced non-residential sector electricity demand.

However, an estimated record amount of natural gas was consumed by the residential/commercial sector (26.1 billion cubic feet, or Bcf) and overall (37.9 Bcf) on Jan. 30 when many people stayed home.

Midwest natural gas withdrawals from storage for the week that ended Feb. 1 added to what was the largest net withdrawal of working natural gas in the Lower 48 states so far during the 2018–2019 heating season, EIA said.

During the late January cold, MISO took several steps to maintain system reliability, including suspending non-essential equipment maintenance, implementing emergency energy pricing measures to accurately reflect grid conditions in its markets, curtailing non-firm energy exports out of MISO and implementing load management measures.

Source: EIASource: EIADespite higher natural gas consumption, natural gas prices were lower compared with previous weather events. Day-ahead natural gas spot prices reached $7.42 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) at Chicago, the main hub in the region. Prices were $4.12/MMBtu at the Consumers Energy Citygate hub serving the Michigan area, and $6.51/MMBtu at the Northern Natural Gas Ventura hub serving the Minnesota area.

During the 2018 bomb cyclone, Ventura spiked to more than $60/MMBtu even as other hubs remained lower than $10/MMBtu. During January 2014, prices reached $30 to $45/MMBtu, EIA said.

Power price movements also were more muted during the 2019 event. Upper Midwest day-ahead on-peak electricity prices reached $300 to $415 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in January 2014, $100 to $150/MWh in January 2018 and $95 to $120/MWh in January 2019.

Source: EIASource: EIAOn Jan. 30, coal supplied about 41% of MISO’s load and natural gas supplied about 30%. Natural gas provided about the same share for the 2018 bomb cyclone and coal provided a higher share, about 45% to 50%. During the 2014 polar vortex, coal was substantially higher, supplying more than 50% of load while natural gas ranged from 10% to 25%.

Nuclear supplied about 12% to 15% of load during all three winter events. Wind supplied a daily average of 7%, ranging from 1% to 13%, during the previous two events. On Jan. 30, 2019, wind accounted for an average of 5%, ranging from 5% to 15% on surrounding days. Wind generation dropped off on the evening of Jan. 29, mainly caused by wind plants reaching their cold weather cutoff thresholds.

Total unplanned generator outages were about 30 GW on Jan. 30, which was higher than the 20 to 28 GW range during previous winter events.

Electricity imports into MISO played a bigger role this year, supplying about 9% of load on Jan. 30, compared with 0 to 3% in the previous two events. These imports came primarily from PJM Interconnection to the east.