As temperatures plummet, electricity usage nears capacity
February 11, 2021
Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 15 at 3:32 p.m. to include new information released by OG&E.
As winter storms and dangerously low temperatures sweep across America, electricity providers are struggling to meet demand.
The Southwest Power Pool (SPP), an interconnected grid which provides power to customers from North Dakota to Texas, has issued a level 3 Emergency Energy Alert to its member companies. At 7:22 a.m. on Feb. 15 the SPP issued a Level 2 alert, according to the pool's website. By 10:08 a.m. on the same day, that alert was escalated to a Level 3.
SPP's website describes a Level 3 alert as "the final of three levels of energy emergency." A Level 3 alert is issued when energy reserves dip below the required minimum. Member companies throughout the SPP's grid have been asked to issue conservation appeals to their customers, including Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative.
Jarrod VanZant, CVEC manager of member relations, said Monday that CVEC did not anticipate any immediate interruptions of power supply, but are still closely monitoring the situation.
"If we continue to see increases in usage as the temperatures stay below zero over the next 24 hours and more snow falls, it will just continue to put a strain on the system," VanZant said. "I mean, in Texas right now they're seeing rolling blackouts. That is something that we're just trying to do everything we can to avoid."
To avoid unplanned interruptions, people living in SPP's service area are being asked to voluntarily reduce their power consumption. VanZant said one of the simplest ways to reduce personal usage, if their health allows it, is to turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees.
"Obviously, we know the biggest draw is through heat and air," VanZant said. "So if people can help us by lowering the temperature in their home a couple of degrees, if everyone would do that across the board, it would certainly help."
Some other energy conservation tips offered by VanZant include turning off lights and unplugging appliances that are not in use, and not running large appliances like the dishwasher and laundry machines.
"Things that may seem minor, if we can get 25,000 people to do it," VanZant said, "we can pull together, and get things under control."
But it isn't just residential power consumers that are being asked to voluntarily curtail energy usage. VanZant said businesses and industrial facilities have also been asked to reduce consumption. However, he said oil and gas companies are not expected to curtail their usage, for an obvious reason.
"Most of our big load is in oil and gas, and they don't want us to deter oil and gas production right now," VanZant said.
He said the SPP needs all the gas they can get right now to fuel power plants, and provide the electricity needed to keep homes warm through the storms.
"So are we in imminent danger of rolling blackouts? No," VanZant said. "Should we be at peak alertness, to take all necessary precautions to prevent us from getting to imminent danger? Yes."
To stay updated on the situation, VanZant recommended following the SPP and CVEC on Facebook and Twitter.
"It's not just a Canadian Valley or OG&E thing," VanZant said. "This is from North Dakota to Texas."
He said CVEC crews are ready to respond to distribution failures, but to prevent supply disruption, everyone has to chip in.
"We're all seeing record energy usage, and we're trying to get everyone to pitch in to help out," VanZant said.
Tecumseh City Manager Jimmy Stokes agreed with VanZant's analysis, saying rolling blackouts are a possibility due to a shortage of available natural gas, and renewable energy.
"They don't really give a heads up on this, this was just immediate, that they needed to take care of it," Erickson said. "So I guess we're experiencing this as we go along, and finding out we're included in these blackouts."
However, she said these blackouts will not be visible on OG&E's power outage map. She said the outages are temporary, planned, and short.
"If people can just bundle up, and be patient, they'll come back on," Erickson said.
In a press release on the afternoon of Feb. 15, OG&E spokesperson Biran Alford said the power outages had been directed by SPP.
“SPP has directed us to implement temporary interruptions of service,” Alford said. “These will be short-term, controlled interruptions and may continue through mid-week.”
Erickson urged the homeless, or those with insufficient heat resources, to go to the Shawnee Salvation Army. She said the Salvation Army is taking in some pets, and is not checking for warrants, or previous trespasses from the property.
"The Salvation Army wants to make it clear that that does not matter right now," Erickson said. "I know they're taking in some pets, and if they've been trespassed before, if they have warrants, they're not checking. They're just welcoming everyone in."