Omaha Public Power District extends rotating outage warnings

University of Nebraska-Lincoln students put on alert
Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 1:20 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha Public Power District on Monday evening advised customers the threat of rolling blackouts would continue through the next day and a half as dangerous cold continued to strain the larger power grid operated by the Southwest Power Pool.

“We know how difficult this is,” the email states. “We ask that you conserve energy, as much as possible, in order to help prevent outages until the weather normalizes.”

Should they become necessary, the rolling outages were again expected to last about an hour, the email states.

OPPD President & CEO Tim Burke posted a video on the utility’s YouTube page explaining the outages — noting that advance warnings may not be possible — and urging conservation.

“These are just some of the steps that we’re required to take by participating in the Southwest Power Pool,” Burke says in the video, noting that power interruptions would not take place unless they were “absolutely necessary.”

OPPD had emailed its customers to be on alert for such measures the evening prior, and sent similar emails again Monday evening urging continued electricity conservation efforts and extending the warning — originally set to expire Tuesday — would continue through mid-day Wednesday.

The power company shared more details about Monday’s outages on its Twitter account later in the evening, stating that about 10,000 customers were affected at a time for about an hour during the rotating outages.

Earlier on Monday, OPPD posted an explainer article on its website Monday afternoon that outages began at 12:09 p.m. in the southern part of the Omaha-metro area, but that “no area is favored over another.”

OPPD board member Craig Moody tweeted at 1:30 p.m. that all but 2,000 Bellevue customers should be restored. That outage was still occurring around 2:15 p.m., Moody said in a follow-up tweet, but no timeframe on when the issue might be resolved was available.

OPPD was advising its customers to continue conserving energy, noting that lowering a thermostat a few degrees can reduce energy usage by 1-3% for each degree.

Over the weekend, OPPD, the Metropolitan Utilities District, and Nebraska Public Power District asked customers to voluntarily reduce electricity usage starting overnight Sunday and continuing through Tuesday as dangerously cold weather descended on the region.

We are asking customers to conserve energy. The record cold forecast is putting a high demand on the electrical system....

Posted by Nebraska Public Power District on Monday, February 15, 2021

“We were very recently directed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to implement coordinated, planned outages,” the @OPPDCares tweet reply states. The SPP website was also experiencing outages.

Rotating planned outages are typically limited to 30 to 60 minutes — but may last longer — before being rotated to another location. The controlled, temporary interruptions of electrical service are implemented because there is not enough power available to keep up with customer demand.

The same requirement fell on the Lincoln Electric System, which said Monday it would start rotating planned power outages due to “an unprecedented energy demand.” Outages were paused in the afternoon, but LES warned the situation was “fluid” and the rolling outages might again be implemented.

At 3 p.m., LES reported it had stopped rolling blackouts after “two cycles,” but advised its customers to be on alert for outages to resume at any point during the next 36 hours.

“This type of demand reduction is only used as a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric grid,” LES said in a release.

Later on Monday, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln was advising on-campus students they might be among the first subject to rolling blackouts, should they need to resume.

MUD officials on Monday said they have dealt with a couple of water main breaks in recent days, but have been able to avoid widespread or rolling service interruptions so far.

As of about 3:20 p.m., 28 customers were without water in La Vista because of a water main break at 78th Street and Park View Boulevard.

“All of our gas plants are running full speed ahead along with our full supply from Northern Natural Gas,” MUD President Mark Doyle said in a Zoom interview. “We’re trying to anticipate anything that might occur to us but at this time we don’t have any operational issues with our gas plants or our water system.”

Doyle said it was still a good idea to curtail gas usage when possible. He said Sunday was a record usage day, and Tuesday may exceed that, but noted area school closings and shifts to remote learning were helpful.

He recommended keeping a trickle of water flowing to keep pipes from freezing and under-sink cabinets open to allow warmer air to circulate around them.

“I just want the public to know that we are on the job, although we’re operating at full capacity we’re running all our gas plants at full bore to meet the demand,” he said. “Our employees are dedicated and understand how critical these life-essential products are now more than ever.”

Black Hills Energy, a utility company serving several Midwest states including Nebraska and Iowa, said in a release that it hadn’t had to implement rolling outages. Still, officials there called on customers to take measures to reduce usage.

KOLN 10/11 Now staff contributed to this report.

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