All News

What Happens Behind The Switch?

Alex Head Shot

As you observe your surroundings, what do you hear? Is the dishwasher humming, cellphone ringing, grain bin drying, email notifications beeping or maybe the TV is streaming your favorite show? We depend on electricity to power our homes, farms, hospitals, schools and so much more. Electricity is intricately woven into everyday life. Any interruption, however brief, can significantly disrupt our routines and activities.

The system that delivers your electricity is often described as the most complex machine in the world, and it’s known as the electric grid.

What makes it so complex?
It has everything to do with how much electricity is available for use at any given time (capacity) and how much electricity is being used during those times (load). The amount of electricity we use is always changing. For example, we typically use more electricity in the mornings, when we’re starting our day, and in the evenings, when we’re cooking dinner and using appliances.

The challenge for electric providers is to plan, produce and purchase enough electricity, so it’s available exactly when you need it. In fact, the market dispatches energy throughout our region every five minutes, enhancing both reliability and affordability for our members. Too much or too little electricity in one place can cause problems. So, to make sure the whole system stays balanced, the electric grid must adjust in real time to changes and unforeseen events, such as weather.

What is an electric grid?
The electric grid is a network of power lines, transformers, substations and other infrastructure that spans the entire country. Let’s start from the beginning:

Coordination, controlling and monitoring
Three major interconnected grids coordinate,control and monitor the country’s electric grid: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection. Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative (MWEC) is part of the Eastern Interconnection grid. These grids operate independently, but are linked to allow electricity to be transferred
between regions when backup support is required.

Within these three regions, seven balancing authorities, known as independent system operators or regional transmission organizations (RTOs) monitor the grid, signaling to power plants when more electricity is needed to deliver the power you need, when you need it.

MWEC is part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which is an RTO.

Generation and transmission
MWEC receives the bulk of its power from our not-for-profitgeneration and transmission (G&T) cooperatives, Upper Missouri Power Cooperative (Upper Missouri) and Basin Electric Power Cooperative (Basin), and a small amount of hydroelectric power from Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).

Basin provides members with a vital network of generation and transmission to 141 cooperative systems. They manage the power plants that make electricity using various energy sources, like coal, natural gas, wind, and solar. Once the electricity is made, high-voltage transmission lines act as the highways for electricity, connecting power plants to electric substations.

At the substation, the voltage of electricity is adjusted and ready to deliver safely through MWEC’s lines, referred to as distribution lines. From here, distribution transformers, which look like metal buckets on the tops of power poles or large green boxes on the ground, further reduce the voltage to levels suitable for use in your home, farm, business and beyond.

The next time you take a glance around, you may gain a bit more insight into what’s happening behind the switch. From the time it’s created to the time it’s used, electricity travels great distances to you, our memberowners. That’s what makes the electric grid our nation’s most complex machine – and one of our nation’s greatest achievements.

As your electric power cooperative, we take pride in serving as your dependable local provider within the intricate and complex electric grid.

Alex Vournas
General Manager