Utility customers in the central US have been asked to conserve electricity and natural gas for the next few days to relieve stress on the system that delivers power across the region as record low temperatures linger. If demand exceeds supply, utilities could find themselves having to institute rolling, temporary blackouts to balance the power pool.
Some already have.
Stillwater came within minutes of implementing one of those planned blackouts Monday afternoon.
The City of Stillwater had already announced it would be cutting power to about 4,300 meters for 30-45 minutes, beginning at 1:20 p.m. But at the last minute, its wholesale power supplier Grand River Dam Authority told Stillwater Electric it could stand down.
City Manager Norman McNickle said he didn't know exactly how much Stillwater's customers had reduced demand and he emphasized that circumstances could change quickly.
Some communities got only 20 minutes of notice. It's possible the City of Stillwater won't have time to give residents notice if it gets another order to power down to save energy, he said.
People should be prepared for the next few days.
The Southwest Power Pool, an organization that manages the electric grid and wholesale power market for a 17-state region extending from the Canadian border to Texas, has been asking utility customers to limit their usage to ensure there is enough to meet the needs of users across the grid.
Power suppliers like Grand River Dam Authority, which supplies the City of Stillwater with wholesale power, and Oklahoma Gas and Electric, which supplies wholesale power to some surrounding communities, are included in that request.
During a press conference Monday afternoon, Southwest Power Pool Executive Vice-president and Officer Mike Ross cited conservation measures and some early short-term blackouts as the reason it could reduce its alert level.
Usage on Monday morning reached a winter peak, although it was a bit lower than projected. Tuesday morning could be an even higher peak, Ross said.
A powerful arctic cold front settled over the SPP service area last week, increasing demand for electricity while squeezing natural gas supply as producers struggle to deliver enough to heat homes and run gas-powered electric power plants.
Ross called it “an 85-year event.”
Oklahoma Corporation Commission Director of Public Utilities Brandy Wreath called the situation “almost an un-modelable event” and a “perfect storm” of demand and inability to deliver natural gas.
The harsh winter weather is impacting natural gas production – which had been capped at 50% of well capacity since last summer to keep prices up – two different ways: by freezing water that blocks lines at the well sites and by causing processing plants to shut down, Wreath explained during a news conference with Gov. Kevin Stitt.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission took action Monday to create more natural gas supply by allowing a small number of wells to work at their full capacity, Wreath said.
Stitt issued an emergency declaration Friday for all 77 counties in Oklahoma due to the weather. The governor said he is requesting President Joe Biden provide federal assistance, including individual assistance to help people with higher utility bills.
The City of Stillwater asks it utility customers to continue conserving energy by taking the following steps:
Turn down thermostats to 68 degrees
Close shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows
Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances
Avoid using large appliances (ovens, washing machines, etc.)
Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible
Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes
Residents should follow the City of Stillwater on Facebook and Twitter for updates and can find more information at stillwater.org.