Have you ever wondered how your Missouri Electric Cooperative figures out how much power your family, your business — and the whole Cooperative — needs each day, month, or year, to live and work comfortably? And even more importantly, have you ever wondered how your Cooperative actually supplies that power to you when your needs aren’t exactly the same from one day to the next?
Base Load Power
The minimum amount of power you and your community need in any given 24-hour cycle is called your base load, or your base load requirement.
Your base load requirement is met largely using the energy that’s generated at coal-burning power plants. These plants are large, reliable, and inexpensive to operate, which means that your Cooperative can provide you with the minimum power you need on a day-to-day basis reliably and affordably.
Base load power plants don’t fluctuate their production in response to your usage, though, so if the weather gets exceptionally hot or cold (and you use more power), they might not be able to meet your needs. Base load plants aren’t designed to be adaptable — they’re designed to be large and reliable; the backbone of Missouri’s rural power supply.
Adaptable, Intermediate Power Plants
So what happens when your needs exceed the power generated by base load plants? Maybe the temperatures are higher, and you’re running your air conditioner more often. Or maybe you use more power before school each morning than you do at other times of day. What does your Cooperative do then?
Your Missouri Electric Cooperative still relies on base load plants for some of your power generation, but when you need more than those base load plants can provide, your Cooperative also pulls from an additional type of power plant: the natural gas-powered intermediate plant.
Intermediate plants are smaller than base load plants are, and they’re better able to respond to your usage fluctuation, too. They can be turned on and off to meet your needs, making them an important part of your Cooperative’s power mix. The downside of intermediate plants, though, is that they’re more expensive to operate than base load plants are.
What Happens When Peak Load Spikes?
When your peak load spikes exceptionally high, like it does on the very hottest summer days and the very coldest winter ones, Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives use a third kind of power plant to generate electricity: Simple-cycle gas plants.
Simple-cycle plants are incredibly agile, and they can be started up (or turned back off) very quickly to help meet your peak needs. They’re also the most expensive of the three primary kinds of power plants we use in rural Missouri.
Your Cooperative uses a mix of base load resources, intermediate natural gas plants, and simple-cycle plants to provide you with reliable power during base and peak usage, both: Base requirements are met inexpensively using base load plants, while peak load can be met at higher rates using adaptable intermediate and simple-cycle plants.