Electric grid manager unveils new Little Rock facility for power supply from Gulf to Canada

Energy Associated Press

A nonprofit company that manages the power grid from the Gulf Coast to Manitoba unveiled a new operations center in Arkansas on Tuesday, saying it moved to the state because it's not prone to hurricanes and has an increasingly talented workforce.

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The Midcontinent Independent System Operator control room will manage power production and transmission in parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. It is linked to similar MISO (MY'-soh) centers in Indiana and Minnesota, and each can take over for another in an emergency.

MISO doesn't generate electricity or own the power lines, but works like an electrical traffic cop to move power from through the grid. President and CEO John Bear likened the $22 million building to an air traffic control center with toll gates — trying to make sure that power production meets demand.

"Trying to provide low-cost energy to consumers is a great cause," Bear said.

Vice President Todd Hillman said Arkansas' recent push to promote careers in technology and engineering drew the company to the state, and Bear said Little Rock is far enough from the Gulf that hurricanes won't disrupt operations.

The center expects to open in June with 52 employees.

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"Arkansas is quickly establishing itself as a hub for talented individuals," Bear said.

Bear said the company hoped to find prospective employees who would be drawn to a sense of service in a nonprofit, and named engineering and other graduates from the University of Arkansas, Arkansas-Little Rock, Louisiana State University, the University of New Orleans and Texas A&M as targets.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at the ribbon-cutting that the center justifies his decision to back high-tech education. In previous years, aggressive school districts launched programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and Arkansas legislators recently passed a law expanding computer classes in high schools — an effort mentioned in WIRED magazine.

"That is a high tribute to our state," Hutchinson said.

The MISO center is 3 miles from the headquarters of the Southwest Power Pool, which manages the power grid through much of the Plains.

The two companies are renegotiating a joint operating agreement after SPP objected to MISO using, for free, one of its transmission lines to move power from its traditional territory north of far southeastern Missouri into the lower Mississippi River Valley.

Southwest Power Pool says MISO should pay to use the line, and has sent MISO bills. MISO has said the operating agreement allows either to use excess capacity on the other's system for free.

Bear and SPP spokesman Tom Kluckner said Tuesday they expect the dispute to be resolved this summer.