Rolling blackouts on the High Plains: What are they, and why do we see them?

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — It is a question that we have heard asked multiple times over the last few days: Why are rolling blackouts necessary?

According to Wes Reeves with Xcel Energy Texas, the electric demand has to be in perfect balance, and due to the winter weather, the demand has increased.

“The extreme cold has affected the ability to move natural gas into the pipelines to our power plants,” said Reeves. “So we have a lot of natural gas fueled power plants, and so they’re not getting the supplies they need. This isn’t just here. It’s across the whole central U.S. and it’s down in downstate Texas as well.”

Reeves said they do a number of things in order to keep the balance and prevent the system from crashing before going into rotating outages. He said they work with their customers who have interruptible service and ask them to cut back. They also ask all customers to conserve energy.

“When it finally gets to that point where you have to act quickly, we have to initiate the controlled outages,” said Reeves. “That keeps everything in balance. We call it control because it’s not out of control. It’s not a cascading type outage. We’re going to specific circuits and de-energizing them.”

So how do utility providers choose where the blackouts start?

“We are actually having these circuits are randomly chosen,” said Reeves. “They’re across the whole footprint of our service territory. So they’re not just in Amarillo, or they’re not just in one town. We’re spreading these out so we’re not affecting whole towns at a time. Then moving on trying to avoid whole neighborhoods or neighborhoods that are right together.”

The notice to reduce the load also comes at a moment’s notice.

“I know, it’s frustrating and people want to know, ‘Can we know ahead of time,’ and there’s just really no way because we’ll get these signals; and by the way, this is coming from the Southwest Power Pool. This is our, our wider power market. They’re telling us, within about five minutes, you’ve got a drop load,” said Reeves. “So there’s no time to go out and prepare someone for this. Other than just telling folks, ‘Hey, this is very possible,’ which is what we’ve been trying to do the last couple of days.”

Reeves says the blackouts can be prevented by conserving energy. That can be done by reducing your thermostat to 68 degrees, turning off lights that are not necessary, and avoid using appliances that use a lot of energy, like clothes dryers or washing machines.

Outage Safety:

If you are hit by a rolling blackout, there are some things you can do to keep warm.

The National Weather Service offered the below suggestions:

  • Close blinds and shades to reduce the amount of heat seeping out of windows.
  • Close off rooms to avoid wasting heat.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing.
  • Eat and drink. Food provides energy to warm the body. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.

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