OPPD, NPPD moves to Energy Emergency Alert Level 2

Thousands of OPPD customers temporarily without power Tuesday morning
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 8:28 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2021 at 10:58 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Record cold temperatures Tuesday morning brought another day of rolling power outages to the Omaha-metro. And while the temperatures climbed above zero Tuesday afternoon, we may still see some rolling blackouts before the OPPD warning period expires at mid-day Wednesday.

Later on Tuesday, Southwest Power Pool declared an Energy Emergency Alert level two. Alert two means they’re doing everything except rolling outages to make up for the exceeded power demand. This affects both OPPD and NPPD.

SPP tweeted a level three being issued at 10:08 a.m. At 12:31 p.m., the alert returned to level one.

OPPD said Tuesday morning’s outages affected about 72,000 customers. Should any further outages be required, OPPD officials said that they wouldn’t be as widespread.

Meanwhile, OPPD itself was not immune to cold-weather pipe issues. A spokeswoman confirmed around 4:45 p.m. that a pipe had burst at Energy Plaza and there was “water everywhere.”

NPPD CEO: ‘We are not out of the woods’

Tom Kent, president and CEO of Nebraska Public Power District gave a briefing via livestream at 11 a.m. Tuesday on the status of the electricity grid and rolling power outages, explaining how the strain on the Southwest Power Pool was affecting power users in 14 states, including Nebraska.

“One thing that’s unique about the electrical system is that everything is balanced on a real-time basis. We don’t have a way to store large amounts of energy,” he said. Instead, people in control centers work “every day, every hour” to balance consumption, he said.

While many outages were implemented and restored this morning, “we are not out of the woods,” he said. More outages and interruptions could happen Tuesday evening, or even the next couple of days, depending on usage loads.

NPPD implemented four times the interruptions Tuesday morning as compared to Monday, Kent said. The power load comparison was 40 megawatts on Monday to 178 megawatts on Tuesday, he said.

NPPD issued appeals to customers over the weekend to conserve power, just as OPPD and the Lincoln Electric System did.

The advantage of being part of a multi-state grid, he said, is that the power companies can help each other out “and keep the lights on” when specific grids are taxed. It also provides lower cost and less risk for everyone, he said.

In determining what areas to temporarily shut down, Kent said that NPPD looks at the system across the state to see how their breakers are serving certain communities and understand the power loads on those breakers. Engineer to under how to manage the system as effectively as possible, account for emergencies and use that information to manage the list of what breakers would go dark.

“It’s a pretty complicated process to identify loads that aren’t critical, to identify the best way to mg the system and acct for other risks that could happen, and to spread it around in a way that makes sense and minimized the impact to any one area as best we can,” the NPPD CEO said.

Kent said he couldn’t recall any time that rolling outages were implemented during the winter due to high power demands, but that those sorts of blackouts were put into effect in July 2012 when the state was in a severe drought, and irrigation demand was high, particularly in the central and northern central parts of Nebraska.

Tom Kent, president and CEO of Nebraska Public Power District, gives a briefing Tuesday morning on the status of its electricity grid and rolling power outages.

Tracking outages in Douglas County

At 10:25 a.m. Tuesday, Omaha Public Power District posted on its website that “all customers impacted by this approximately one-hour outages have been or are currently being restored,” and that SPP-directed outages were over.

OPPD said at 10 a.m. that it had brought 12,222 customers back online after a blackout lasting about an hour and had 130 customers without power. The update was an improvement from the 15,000 customers OPPD reported were without power at 9:30 a.m. At that time, OPPD was preparing for an additional 6,000 customers to be affected by the next rolling blackout, scheduled to end at 10:30 a.m.

As directed by the Southwest Power Pool, OPPD began implementing rolling outages at 6:50 a.m. Tuesday in Sarpy County. OPPD said it was preparing to implement “controlled outages” for 18,508 Douglas County customers at 7:30 a.m. with another outage planned for 1,456 customers at 7:45 a.m. At 8 a.m., OPPD reported it had restored the first set of planned outages in Sarpy County and was preparing another set of outages for 8,000 customers. Another outage expected to impact 12,000 OPPD customers was planned for 8:30 a.m., according to an 8:20 a.m. update on the OPPD site.

In its web update Tuesday morning, OPPD posted that the rolling outages would happen without warning. OPPD emailed customers Monday evening to let them know that rolling blackouts could occur at any point through mid-day Wednesday.

At 8:10 a.m. Tuesday, the Omaha Public Power District’s outage map showed 31,470 residents in Douglas County without power during this record cold day. The map also shows nearly 3,000 without power in Sarpy County and 93 in Cass.

OPPD tweeted safety tips for those without power and at about 8 a.m. this morning reported that the Southwest Power Pool has directed more controlled outages to be completed throughout the day. The next group of controlled outages was expected to last about an hour and impact about 8,000 Douglas County customers.

Omaha Fire Battalion Chief Scott Fitzpatrick said just before noon Tuesday that 18 of the 56 reports of cold exposure OFD has responded to this month have happened since Friday.

OPS cancels remote learning

The outages prompted Omaha Public Schools to cancel remote learning classes on Tuesday.

Traffic lights impacted by power outages

Traffic lights were throughout the Omaha-metro area, including intersections on Dodge Street. The 6 News First Alert Traffic Team warned commuters to be cautious.

The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office also tweeted that many traffic lights are out in the area Tuesday morning. Early commuters were asked to treat all intersections without functioning lights as a 4-way stop.

Iowa utility keeping up with demand

MidAmerican Energy said in a news release Tuesday that while it does serve customers in parts of Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, it was operating on a different part of the power grid and was not experiencing the same challenges as others in the Midwest.

Still, the power company was advising its customers to conserve power and gas “to support our neighbors to the south and west experiencing those challenges.”

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.

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