Amid record-setting low temperatures and skyrocketing energy demands, utility companies across the central U.S. have ordered rolling blackouts to ration electricity, leaving millions without power. Energy expert Michael Webber explained to Market Watch why this cold wave has created such problems for utilities.
Weather events stress the electrical grid. Webber said in his home state of Texas, ERCOT, a nonprofit group that manages the power grid for most of the state, is imposing blackouts because demand is so high. Likewise, the Southwest Power Pool, serves customers in 14 states from North Dakota to Oklahoma.
Electricity heats 60 percent of Texas homes. The rest are generally natural gas or propane-fueled. Webber said, “normally our peak electric demand is on summer afternoons for air conditioning. But in this sustained cold, electric demand is spiking to keep homes comfortable and pipes from freezing. This storm is more extreme than the most severe winter conditions that ERCOT typically plans for.”
He added that coal and natural gas-fueled power plants generally shut down for maintenance this time of year as demand is greatest in the warmer months. Webber said that’s another reason for the outages.
Katy O’Reilly (Rochelle Township High School Class of 2010) prepared to spend the night in the Tulsa, Oklahoma Zoo where she works in the Rainforest. O’Reilly said although the Tulsa Zoo has been closed for a week, animal care and the maintaining the grounds presented many challenges. The departments have had to provide continuous temperature checks for animal enclosures and snow and ice removal for the outside animals. Fortunately the zoo has not reported any outages.
The storm and its side effects have been a huge drain on their budget due to the overwhelming burden of snow removal and extra staff hours. This has been a challenging time for the zookeepers.
“The combination of nearly two weeks of record-breaking low temperatures, heavy snow, and freezing rain has had significant impacts on communities across the state,” said Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Mark Gower. Snowfall of 5.1 inches was reported.
Former RTHS teacher Jennifer Baker and her husband, Dave, are in Keller, Texas. On Feb 18 Jen reported, “Still have power, but no water due to a water treatment facility power outage. Under boil after order probably ‘til at least Wednesday.’ This morning it was 20 degrees in Keller with forecast highs in the 50s and 60s ahead.”
Former Spanish/ELL teacher Patsy Mullin and her husband, Dan, retired to Texas. On Friday morning she said they had, ‘no heat or water in our apartment building. We are at Margaret’s and have everything running, but are on a boil order. Dan is in the hospital with a kidney infection. They will walk him over to get his second Covid vaccination and I will join him there to get mine today. Our son John has no water or heat in his condo and won’t be working at his bank until next week.” *Dan was released from the hospital.
She added, “The stores are running out of water, but are managing to replenish their supplies daily. Texas Tough is the motto here, but this is a cold we’re not prepared for.”
Mullin shared a post from Mario Soriano who managed to turn the crisis into an adventure for his kids.
Soriano said, “Get a tent and place it on your bed. Cover it with one or two blankets for insulation. This kept our family warm when the temps dropped to 40 in the room, but inside the tent it was 80 degrees. We used a $20 tent from Walmart that has been sitting in my garage since last year. If you have one and don’t have power, I recommend doing this or buying one because who knows how long… The kids had a blast and went to sleep warm and comfy.”
Former Rochelle Elementary District 231 Superintendent Dr. Joe Thiele and wife, Norma, recently retired to Wylie, Texas. On Thursday evening Mrs. Thiele said, “No electricity since 3 a.m.; guessing our former home in Rochelle is toasty and the fireplace is cozy.”
On Friday morning it was 21 degrees in Wylie, but it was in the mid 50s Thursday.
Today the Thieles are, “finally back in our apartment. They evacuated everyone as we had no power or heat. We went to our daughter’s. They had rolling power and heat. Stores are closed; roads are a mess as we have no plows. Ice and snow everywhere. We are hoping that restaurants will be open to deliver tonight.”
Mrs. Thiele said, “Hope this clears up as Joe and I are tired of staying inside. Thinking we will get mail today; haven’t had mail since (a week ago) Saturday. I saw a FedEx truck go by. There’s hope.”