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Kansas City-area utility companies initiate controlled outages

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Posted at 12:44 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 19:38:49-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thousands of Kansas City-area homes and businesses were without power for a half-hour or more Monday as the regional energy suppliers were ordered to enact controlled outages across the Midwest with demand outpacing power generation capacity for the Southwest Power Pool amid record-breaking cold temperatures.

For Evergy customers, starting at 12:15 p.m. Monday, the utility company turned off power to approximately 60,000 customers for a half-hour to help conserve power and reduce stress on the regional energy grid.

The extreme cold and rolling outages prompted some area school districts to cancel all classes Tuesday, namely Olathe and Blue Valley schools.

While many "snow days" have been transitioned to virtual learning days in recent months, the districts said they were shutting down to do their part in conserving energy.

Check the latest list of school closings and delays here.

With even colder temperatures forecast overnight and into Tuesday, additional rolling blackouts still may be required during the next 24 to 48 hours.

What is the purpose of rolling blackouts?

"All customers should be prepared for the potential for these periodic outages," Evergy said in a statement Monday afternoon..

"We've also seen some reduced capacity at wind farms because of icing conditions. Every form of energy generation has had some challenges because of the cold," Evergy spokesperson Gina Penzig said.

Penzig said Evergy's Wolf Creek nuclear power plant in Kansas has operated smoothly.

She added some coal operated plants had some issues earlier in the week which are now resolved.

Penzig also said natural gas supplies are currently tight and that fuel which can be used to operate power plants is being prioritized for heating homes and businesses.

She said the 1980s was the last time Evergy had to interrupt power over supply concerns.

"It's important that we're having robust discussions about what type of fuels are available for producing electricity whether that be natural resources, wind, sun or more traditional fossil fuels," she said.

Independence Power and Light customers also issued a statement that its customers should prepare for similar outages in the 20- to 30-minute range.

The Southwest Power Pool, which coordinates a power grid in 14 states and has reciprocal contracts in a few others, coordinates electricity providers in the Kansas City area, including Evergy, the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities (BPU), as well as Independence Power and Light. It issued an emergency alert late Monday morning amid record demand for electricity.

The alert was issued after the power grid had exhausted available energy reserves amid record-breaking demand for electricity during the the intense cold snap that has overtaken the Midwest.

As a result, the grid operator is directing its member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of service to prevent more widespread and uncontrolled outages.

“In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Southwest Power Pool Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lanny Nickell said in a statement. “It’s a last resort the 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, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude.”

The Southwest Power Pool includes all of Kansas and Oklahoma along with portions of western Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The pool also has contracts with power providers in Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

Calls to curb energy consumption started Sunday night.

“Even with those measures, what we found is that right now there’s not enough electricity supply to meet customers’ needs, so we’ve had to take the step of emergency interruptions,” Penzig said earlier Monday.

The need for a rolling midday blackout Monday had ended by early afternoon, according to Evergy, but Penzig said rolling blackouts may have to continue through Tuesday.

With little advance notice from the Southwest Power Pool, Evergy said it's impossible to provide customers advance notice of such planned blackouts. She said the best way to prevent additional rolling blackouts during the next few days is energy conservation.

“We would ask customers to continue to conserve as much as they can to help alleviate the stress on the power grid,” Penzig said.

Evergy said about 60,000 customers were without power for a half-hour earlier Monday as a result of rolling blackouts.

“This is an extraordinary event,” Penzig said, adding that Evergy estimates it’s been more than 30 years since such measures were needed due to power consumption vastly exceeding supply.

BPU also acknowledged utilizing 40-minute rolling blackouts for some customers shortly after noon Monday, though outages across the Kansas City area were minimal by 3 p.m.

The University of Kansas announced shortly before 2 p.m. that it was closing the Lawrence campus and the Edwards campus in Overland Park and canceling all remaining classes for the day due to the potential for rolling blackouts.

Kansas City, Kansas, Community College also was among the locations to report an outage.

BPU in Wyandotte County reported 1,600 customers without power around 1 p.m. on Monday.

Independence Power and Light had more than 1,400 customers without power shortly before 1 p.m., according to its outage map.

The Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative joined calls for customers to reduce energy consumption ot risk overloading the system and causing more widespread outages Monday afternoon.

The Energy Emergency Alert also impacts Kansas electric cooperatives, including much of the central and western parts of the state.

“We are already seeing high electric use and are anticipating record-breaking demand in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Kansas Electric Cooperatives CEO Lee Tafanelli said in a statement.

Natural gas companies, including Spire and Atmos, also have echoed the request for customers to reduce consumption, which has strained the supply chain.

Customers are encouraged to turn thermostats down to 68 degrees or lower, if their health allows. Other ways to help conserve energy:

  • Avoid using energy-consuming appliances, including washers and dryers, ovens and dishwashers, through at least mid-week when possible;
  • Make microwave or toaster oven-friendly meals, if possible;
  • Change furnace filters to help with efficiency;
  • Reduce the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees;
  • Close furnace registers in unused rooms and make sure registers in other rooms aren’t blocked;
  • Wear an extra layer or use an extra blanket rather than cranking up the thermostat;
  • Close blinds and curtains to prevent heat loss through windows;
  • Turn off and unplug nonessential appliances.

“Simple steps like this may not seem like much, but they will make a measurable difference in conserving energy,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said during a press conference Monday afternoon about the state of emergency.

Evergy also recommends having an emergency kit ready in the event of an unplanned emergency outage.

“We want to disrupt people as little as possible, especially in these extreme cold temperatures, but also we have to provide the necessary relief to the power grid so we don’t have a larger uncontrolled event,” Penzig said.

She said Wolf Creek Generating Station, a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kansas, and coal plants in the area, which needed some adjustment last week due to the cold, have been running well.

But the natural gas supply, which is used by other generating stations, remains tight and is being used primarily to heat homes and businesses, while ice buildup has hampered production from wind farms.

Kansas officials said the natural gas supply is OK, but demand has driven the price up 100 to 150 times normal, while the weather has impacted electrical energy supply.

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas vowed on social media to have the municipal government “do all it can to responsibly conserve energy usage for the next several days. We ask you to help do the same.”

He noted that concerted effort by everyone to help curb energy demand during the next few days would help “protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

With outages scattered throughout the city, police were working to cover traffic control at stop lights without power. Drivers are reminded to treat intersections without a working traffic signal like a four-way stop, according to KCPD.

The controlled outages already are underway.