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Evergy's controlled outage leaves some households without power for 7 hours

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 20:40:51-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The thermostat in Taylor Albritton's Lenexa home showed 48 degrees at 12:22 p.m., almost four hours after her power went out as part of Evergy's controlled outages across the region.

"I know [Evergy is] not going to pay for my pipes if they're frozen or pay for any food that goes bad, so we're kind of on our own at this point," Albritton said.

The power came back on at 3 p.m.

In Overland Park, Rebecca Taylor and her two children left their home Tuesday morning to seek warmth at a nearby Panera. Their power went out around 7 a.m.

"Can't get ahold of Evergy, they just hang up on you," Taylor said. "Everybody has a different story from a different person at Evergy. We have no ETA."

Rebecca Taylor and family
Rebecca Taylor and her family try to keep warm during the Evergy power outage on Tuesday.

Taylor's power came back on more than seven hours later.

She said a representative from Evergy finally informed her that her house was part of the planned Evergy blackout but equipment failure prevented a quick restoration of power.

"I just feel like it should have been better planned," Taylor said. "And now you've left thousands of families without power, like you literally shut their power off on purpose and now you're unable to get it back on. On the coldest day of the year."

Elizabeth Brooks, a Northland resident, was without power for three hours.

"Three hours is quite a difference than 30 to 60 minutes or maybe 90 minutes when you have elderly or small children or a house full of people," Brooks said.

Brooks, like many others, called into the provided Evergy hotline number multiple times and either couldn't get through or the number hung up.

Evergy said despite being fully staffed, they received six times the highest number of calls they've ever received on Tuesday. The website and phone line was overwhelmed.

Chesney Thompson, in Brookside, tried calling Evergy, as directed, after her outage continued past the one-hour mark but didn't get through.

"Never got a representative, but then it went on and on and we were wondering what was going on because the outage map just said, 'unknown cause,' and it gave us no ETA," Thompson said. "It said, 'work in progress,' so we didn't know if it was something other than the blackout."

She ultimately called KCMO's 311 line. About a half hour later, she said her power was restored. It took more than three hours.

Chuck Caisley, Evergy's senior vice president and chief customer officer, said in an afternoon news conference that the Southwest Power Pool requested they continue to restrict power by about three times the demand, so that's why it took so long to get people's electricity back on.

Caisley said that as of 4:00 p.m., the households still without power were experiencing additional outage issues separate from the controlled outage.

Roots Bailey called 41 Action News saying he was about to go to a motel with his two dogs because his house was so cold. He lives near the sports stadiums.

"This is the very reason people don't trust big businesses," Bailey said. "Lying is part of their DNA."

Donna Craig from Overland Park said her power was out from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Many others called, emailed, tweeted, and messaged 41 Action News, all frustrated and worried.

Diane Charity, a leader with KC Tenants, said the outage hurt those who are housing insecure even more.

"The challenge is that it hasn't been warm before these outages for us, so we've got our ovens on, we're boiling water, and then to be hit with an outage in the urban core or anywhere where it's so insecure to stay there in the first place," Charity said.

Charity answers the KC Tenants housing hotline. People have been complaining of holes in their walls and roofs. They already were piling on layers of clothing and running space heaters, but they can't run too many or it will blow out their outlets. Charity said people's utilities already were sky-high because of poorly insulated homes and landlords who do not fix the issues.

She and KC Tenants said Evergy has the capacity to provide more cost- and energy-efficient services.

"Update their information sharing, update their equipment so that these kinds of things don't happen," Charity said. "And then the audacity – 'We're going to ask everybody just to stay cold, turn the heat down.' You want us to help you? You're making money hand over fist."

Albritton said she wishes she could change energy providers, but Evergy is the only option. She got so frustrated that she called Lenexa's mayor, Michael Boehm. She said his response was that Evergy is a private company and he has no control over it.

"So they don't have any accountability for their business practices or the way they're treating their customers," Albritton said of Evergy. "They can charge people however they want, and then I guess choose not to answer the phone or provide any information. So it's definitely frustrating."

Evergy said what happened Tuesday was not their goal. They stressed that Southwest Power Pool controls the energy grid in 14 states from the Canadian border through the Midwest down to Texas, and when they tell Evergy to reduce power they don't have much time to alert their customers.

The Southwest Power Pool said the energy grid system still is under a lot of stress, and more controlled outages could be on the way.

Evergy is asking residents to use less energy however they can. They suggest drawing the blinds or curtains to keep cold air out, turning the thermostat to 65-68 degrees, and avoid using large appliances like the washer/dryer and the dishwasher.