SWEPCO drops plans for controlled electric outages

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Due to the unprecedented demand for electricity as a result of the long-lasting and most severe winter storm seen in the Central and Southeast U.S. for generations, utilities in the Southern Power Pool (SPP) in 14 states –including SWEPCO in Arkansas – were ordered to start following blackouts for customers. However, the morning of Feb. 16, SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said SWEPCO has discontinued the series of controlled outages.

About 1,700 customers in the Eureka Springs area experienced a power outage lasting a little more than three hours Monday morning. However, the outage was not related to a planned blackout. Main wrote in an email that the outage Monday morning was due to a heavy electric load and equipment problems in the substation serving Eureka Springs.

For the past couple of weeks, a large number of utility trucks have been deployed to work on the substation on Dairy Hollow Road causing frequent road closures.

Main said SWEPCO has recently completed upgrades on the distribution system in Eureka Springs.

“We have installed new distribution automation equipment which will greatly reduce outage restoration times for outages on the distribution system,” Main said. “The outage on Monday was in the substation and not on the distribution lines themselves.”

SPP said in the press release Feb. 15 that the demand for power in the region, driven upward by the bitter cold, is overwhelming available generation. Most of the outages were expected to last about an hour and cut power to a few thousand customers at a time.

“This is an unprecedented event and marks the first time Southern Power Pool based in Little Rock has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” SPP CEO Lanny Nickell said in a statement the afternoon of Feb. 15. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse.”

Nickell said the outages are necessary to limit demand and “safeguard the reliability of the regional grid.” An outage in Oklahoma that began shortly after noon Feb. 15 affected about 6,000 customers.

SPP manages the electric grid that links utilities in all of Oklahoma and Kansas and parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico.

The statement said the power pool was forced to begin relying on reserve energy sources at 10:08 a.m. CST on Feb. 15, and it issued the controlled outage order when the reserves were exhausted a few hours later. It said it had been steadily stepping up warnings to conserve power since Feb. 9.

The statement said each member utility would decide for itself how, where, and when to cut off power to customers to achieve necessary reductions.

Many rural electric customers in the region are served by the Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. CECC is also part of the SPP. Cory Smith, spokesperson for CECC, said they were ordered twice to begin suspending service and in both of those occurrences, SPP suspended those orders.

“At the moment, which is subject to change, we are hopeful that we don’t have to exercise any curtailment or load shedding,” Smith said. “With temperatures improving, we are hopeful we don’t have to begin service interruptions. We have had sporadic outages because of equipment failures, typical things we see in cold weather unrelated to the SPP energy emergency. The linemen working in these extremely cold conditions are the true heroes in these situations.”

Smith recommends customers visit the company’s website, carrollecc.com, for up-to-date information.

The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management said natural gas utilities in the state are asking customers to conserve use of natural gas during the winter storms. All utility providers are strongly encouraging customers to conserve energy by keeping homes cooler than normal, wearing extra clothing, and avoiding use of equipment like clothes dryers that use a lot of electricity. Black Hills Energy, the natural gas provider in Carroll County, has additional tips for energy conservation at blackhillsenergy.com/.

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