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As Temperatures Drop, Iowa's Cedar Falls Utilities Relies More on Coal, Gas for Energy



By Amie Rivers


February 11, 2021 - Despite temperatures well below freezing for days in a row, Iowa's Cedar Falls Utilities’ electric, gas and water distribution is “holding up real well.”

Steve Bernard, general manager of CFU, told the board of trustees on Wednesday that with prolonged below-freezing and overnight sub-zero temperatures since this weekend, energy prices on the regional market were rising as demand increased and wind generation typically drops during low temperatures.


Tom Risse of Cedar Falls Utilities at the Streeter Station power plant in Cedar Falls.

Photo: Matthew Putney, Courier Photo Editor

The average cost to purchase electricity from the market last year was around 2 cents per kilowatt hour, but this week rose to between 6 and 10 cents, with a short spike on Monday to 40 cents, CFU spokesperson Mollie Strouse said.

To offset that, Bernard noted, CFU’s own local power plants are running more often. That includes the Streeter Station Unit 6 power plant, which runs on coal and natural gas with a capacity of 13.5 megawatts. Bernard said that will likely continue for a while.

“Temperatures are expected to be extraordinarily cold through the weekend,” he told the board at their regular meeting. “We may keep No. 6 online for that reason.”

Bernard said one of CFU’s two gas turbines also ran for a few hours on Monday morning during the price spike. The gas turbines have a combined capacity of 38.8 megawatts.

One of the biggest reasons for the rise in prices on the market was the lack of wind energy, he said.

“This time of year, the wind isn’t blowing,” Bernard said. “We depend so often on wind energy, and there’s not a lot of wind production going on right now. And that may be the case the rest of this week.”

Most wind turbines in Iowa are designed to withstand temperatures below zero. But if the temperature drops below negative-20 degrees, they can’t run.

“So it’s important from a pricing standpoint, and really important from a reliability standpoint, to have that type of generation available as needed,” Bernard said of the coal and gas alternatives.