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June 2012
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Days of frigid temps have utilities wary


Nearly 48 hours worth of prolonged, bone-chilling temperatures not only brought local routines to a frigid standstill, it kept area utilities on edge for possible damage and peak usage.

As a wide swath of the nation fell under the gun of a polar vortex that brought sub-zero temperatures well into America's Heartland, utility companies were learning the fallout Tuesday afternoon and gauging necessary responses to ensure adequate connections that in some cases meant asking customers to scale back.

The Tennessee Valley Authority power system reported near-record electricity demand - the second highest winter power peak in TVA history behind Jan. 16, 2009 - through the critically low temperatures early this week. The demand reached a peak power of 32,490 megawatts at 8 a.m. Tuesday systemwide, and 31,599 megawatts at 8 p.m. Monday.

The utility reported customers used the third most electricity in a 24-hour period in TVA history at 678 gigawatt-hours. As a result, several customers of local power companies on interruptible power contracts had to curb their power usage to fulfill the high demand, which accounted for an additional 1,000 megawatts of available capacity.

"My sincere thanks to everyone across the TVA Valley for helping keep the lights on and our customers informed throughout this extreme winter event," said Tim Ponseti, vice president of TVA Transmission Operations and Power Supply.

Murray State University has a similar contract with TVA that includes a clause that power to campus can be reduced or cut-off in times of extreme usage. Power was turned off about 5:45 p.m. Monday and remained off until about 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to public information officer Catherine Sivills.

As a result of the outage, 40 percent of the major buildings on campus sustained water damage from interior pipes bursting and problems with battery-powered university vehicles. The university will be closed today to assess problems, schedule repairs, and determine when buildings and services can reopen, she said.

Kentucky Utilities also asked customers to lower thermostats several degrees to conserve energy and to practice energy efficiency throughout the cold weather. Kentucky Utilities reported a peak electrical demand of 5,027 megawatts at 9 p.m. Monday, surpassing the previous record of 4,640 megawatts in 2009.

David Clark, general manager at Paducah Power System, said the utility also experienced a surge through the cold weather but the system has plenty of capacity and returned power on the market. The utility measured slightly more than 106 megawatts peak usage at 8 a.m. Tuesday, about a 20 percent increase.

"We're happy we didn't have to worry about this event on our end," Clark said.

The utility wasn't overly concerned with the frigid temperatures because the system could feed from other substations should one go down, Clark said, and mainly kept an eye on any icy potential along with the blustery wind.

Glen Anderson, general manager at Paducah Water, said the agency did not have any troubles with infrastructure or operational issues. Anderson said main pipes were dug deep enough that they wouldn't typically freeze under the short blast of cold weather.

With substantial seasonal changes between fall and winter, or winter and spring, Anderson said the expanding or contracting ground could cause enough movement to break pipes, but none had been reported with this system.

"Unless we have something really unusual take place, those pipes are designed to operate in that kind of environment," Anderson said.


Contact Will Pinkston or Kathleen Fox, Paducah Sun staff writers, at 270-575-8650, or follow @PaducahSunNews on Twitter.

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