Polar Vortex Information
HELP AVOID SERVICE INTERRUPTIONS BY CONSERVING ENERGY
Utilities across the Midwest participated in periodic service interruptions due to the Polar Vortex on Feb. 14-17, 2021. The event has since ended and any current service interruptions you experience are not that of curtailment efforts. If you lose power, please report your outage here, call 800-554-6773 or use the OPPDconnect app.
OPPD is part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the regional transmission organization who oversees the power grid for its members. The SPP declared an Energy Emergency Alert and asked all member organizations, including OPPD, to begin energy conservation measures on Feb. 14 through mid-day Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Please know that we would never intentionally interrupt power unless it was absolutely necessary. For more information and updates, visit stormandoutage.com.
As temperatures dipped and the demand for energy went up, it was important to conserve energy until weather normalized to reduce the need for controlled service interruptions.
Have a Plan
Power interruptions impact us all, but have greater impacts on our elderly neighbors and those in medical need. If you use life-sustaining medical equipment that depends on electricity for operation it’s important to have a plan for a power outage. Make sure all batteries are charged and ready to be used in case of an emergency. In the worst case event, such as a significant weather crisis, prepare to evacuate to an alternate location that will likely have power or has a backup generator. A plan should include at least two alternatives including a friend or family member that lives in a different area and as well as a nearby fire station or medical facilities with backup generators.
In a medical emergency, call 911.
Conserving Energy is Key
OPPD asks customers to conserve energy and do their part to lessen the demand. Here are some ways our customers can help:
- Lower your thermostat a few degrees and dress more warmly or use additional blankets to stay comfortable, instead. You can reduce your energy usage by 1-3% for each degree.
- Close the fireplace damper when not in use to avoid losing heat through the chimney.
- Use dampers on the ductwork to balance the airflow in your home if one room is colder or warmer than another. Closing registers should be a last resort if dampers are not available.
- Do not use a wood-burning fireplace for supplemental heating, as it pulls hot air out of a home through the chimney in order to fuel the fire.
- Seal windows and external doors with weather stripping.
- Avoid washing and drying clothing or running dishwashers during the coldest parts of the day – typically late night and early morning.
- Avoid “phantom” power loss:
- Switch desktop computers and monitors to sleep mode when not in use.
- Shut computer monitors off when not in use.
- Do not just turn off electronics like televisions, DVD, Blu-Ray players, or cable boxes when not in use. Unplug them if possible.
- A central power strip enables you to turn off multiple devices at once.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is directing the outages?
The controlled outages are being directed by our regional transmission organization, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) – of which OPPD is a member.
SPP issued an alert Sunday asking members to begin outreach efforts to conserve energy due to historic arctic temperatures impacting the Central Plains region. OPPD began its outreach efforts Sunday which included emailing customers, a media outreach campaign, as well as social media appeals urging everyone to start taking energy conservation measures. The other SPP members also began such outreach measures Sunday. This is the first time OPPD and SPP have ever had to take action in this manner to curtail power in the winter.
Who is affected by the outages?
All utilities within SPP’s 17-state footprint are being impacted and have been asked to take part in energy conservation measures and for an hour Monday, Feb. 15, were directed to enact controlled outages. This includes both public power companies, like OPPD, and investor-owned utilities like Oklahoma Gas & Electric.
The controlled outages will interrupt service to both homes and businesses. OPPD has called upon its commercial and industrial customers to curtail and they have readily responded.
Outages on Monday, Feb. 15, were for an hour, which when compared to large snow or ice storms, were much shorter than typical weather-related outages, some of which can last for days. By comparison, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), SPP’s equivalent in Texas has had to shed 20 times the amount SPP had to shed, around 15,000 megawatts on a rotating basis in Texas.
Overall, millions of customers have experienced an outage throughout the middle US.
What is OPPD doing, internally, to conserve energy and be part of the solution?
OPPD and its employees understand we play an important role as well. At our facilities, all unnecessary lighting has been turned off. Thermostats have been lowered to 67 degrees, and in unoccupied areas, we’ve dialed thermostats back even further – to 55 degrees.
Our employees are customers too. They are taking the same measures to conserve energy at home, by lowering thermostats, unplugging unused electronics, etc.
What is my best source of information?
The best source of information is stormandoutage.com. People may also get information from OPPD’s social media accounts on Facebook or Twitter.
What is SPP?
The SPP, or Southwest Power Pool, is one of 9 regional transmission organizations – or RTOs – that is a nonprofit corporation mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory (FERC) to operate bulk electric power systems. SPP has a 17-state footprint with 104 members and covers more than 552,000 square miles. They are based in Little Rock, Ark.
What does SPP have to do with this?
SPP oversees the power grid for its member organizations like OPPD as well as other benefits. The SPP, like other RTOs, act as an air traffic controller of the grid.
What about people with medical conditions who rely on power?
Planned outages will be approximately 60 minutes. Follow the same precautions and guidelines as you would for prolonged outages. Have alternate plans for refrigerating medicines or using power-dependent medical devices. In case of emergency, call 911.
What utilities are affected?
All utilities who are market participants in SPP were impacted. These utilities were both public power utilities like OPPD and investor owned, like Oklahoma Gas & Electric. SPP reaches into 17 different states at this time.
Millions of customers have been effected by the events of the polar vortex. And this is the first time OPPD and SPP have ever had to take action in this manner to curtail power in the winter.
What’s going to happen to the system when everything comes back on at once?
These events are no different than when OPPD brings power back on line after other storms. OPPD is asking customers to continue energy conversation measures even after coming back online until conditions improve.
Where is this happening?
This event has impacted millions across the SPP footprint, from North Dakota to Texas. For OPPD, mainly in customer-dense areas in and around the metro area. And this is the first time OPPD and SPP have ever had to take action in this manner to curtail power in the winter.
Where can I get timely updates?
The latest information is found at stormandoutage.com. OPPD’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are also good sources for timely updates.
When did you know this was going to happen?
SPP issued an alert Sunday asking members to begin outreach efforts to conserve energy due to historic Arctic temperatures impacting the Central Plains region. OPPD began its outreach efforts Sunday which included emailing customers, a media outreach campaign, as well as social media appeals urging everyone to start taking energy conservation measures. The other SPP members also began such outreach measures Sunday. This is the first time OPPD and SPP have ever had to take action in this manner to curtail power in the winter.
When will this be over?
When weather conditions improve and the polar vortex breaks up, which will lessen this historic winter peak load demand.
Why is this happening?
In this case, the entire region is experiencing record-setting Arctic weather patterns that are causing historic demands for energy. Much of the region, from North Dakota to Texas, is experiencing record low temperatures and wind chills. While OPPD’s generation is working as planned, SPP is experiencing lack of wind and limited gas supply across the region and it has played a part in this situation.
Why the lack of notice to customers?
We are sorry that we couldn’t give advance notice so customers could plan ahead. Unfortunately this is a very fluid situation and many aspects are taken into consideration when determining how much power is needed in the region by SPP to cover the need. Unfortunately we do not know in advance how much energy is needed or the number of customers that will be affected and when. While we ensured our generation was ready for the winter season, OPPD acted as soon as it became aware of the extreme winter vortex situation. SPP and its member organizations began outreach measures Sunday when forecasters predicted possible issues with energy demand due to historic, region-wide cold weather.
Why my area?
OPPD first asked residential and large industrial customers to curtail. Following that, other measures were needed. Load-shedding blocks, or areas where there are controlled outages, are set up across the Omaha metro area based on geographic and electrical system configuration. We need to have enough load in each area to be able to meet the requirements of SPP when they call for load curtailment. There are multiple blocks set up across the metro to balance which areas are impacted and allow flexibility when enacting load-shedding.
The electric system does not have the ability to pick and choose specific residential customers, they are aggregated together into circuits. Knowing that calling on load-shedding was an unprecedented action when the blocks were originally set up, an effort was made to be as neutral and balanced with what customers and areas would be impacted. No area is favored over another area.
How are outage or service interruption areas chosen?
In emergency situations where interruptions to service are required, like the one we're experiencing the week of Feb 15, OPPD selects outage areas as equitably and effectively as possible. It has less to do with geography and more to do with amount of load being requested to be curtailed by the Southwest Power Pool. OPPD is prepared for these types of situations and has designated 8 geographic "blocks" within its service area. In these controlled outage situations, the outages rotate through those areas in numerical order, so as to ensure no one area is impacted more than another. This process also ensures the needed energy conservation goals are met. OPPD works to make sure that key infrastructure, like hospitals, are impacted least.
How big are these outages?
As part of OPPD's preparedness for these types of situations, the utility has designated 8 geographic "blocks" within its service area. The size of these blocks is determined by the amount of load, or usage, they consume. When OPPD is asked to reduce load, areas are chosen that will equal the requested reduction by the Southwest Power Pool. Geography is not a component of this decision, and outages move from block to block so no area is impacted more than others. In more densely populated areas of our service area, the block may be smaller in geographic size but larger in load due to population.
How will this impact my rates?
The financial impact of the historic polar vortex events as it relates to rates are unclear at the present time. Many factors, including weather impacts OPPD’s financial position and a warmer summer could balance these colder days we are currently experiencing.
How is this the same/different than summer curtailment?
In summer, when OPPD is at peak load, we can implement a number of measures, including our Cool Smart program to reduce energy load. OPPD does not have a winter curtailment program, as this is a unique situation and demand for load is much lower this time of year.
How are increased renewables affecting this situation?
Lack of wind and sun in winter months (renewable is intermittent), does make it more challenging, which is why conventional methods of generation must be considered for reliability when evaluating generation mix, at least until technology changes.
In this case, lack of wind and limited gas supply across the region has played a part in this situation as record winter peak loads are being set due to the weather. Locally, OPPD continues to pursue a diverse fuel mix to ensure system reliability and balance the need to provide affordable, reliable and environmentally sensitive energy services. OPPD’s integrated model to generate and transmit energy has helped.
How can OPPD outages make a difference for the entire SPP footprint?
Just like the region-wide effort to conserve energy, the cumulative effect of the region-wide curtailment helps balance grid demand to the supply available.
How can turning down my thermostat help?
Every little bit helps, as the cumulative effort makes a large impact.
How do you decide who has an outage first?
OPPD first asked residential and large industrial customers to curtail. Following that, other measures were needed. When setting up the load-shedding blocks, in order to be as neutral as possible, an order was randomly selected. Subsequent to this event, the order of load-shedding blocks will be changed so that a particular area is not disproportionately impacted if a future event were to occur.
How will I know if I’m going to experience an outage?
We will try our best to notify customers in advance of a planned interruption. However, system conditions can change very quickly and so it is not always possible to get a message out ahead of time. In Monday’s event, there were only a few minutes of notice given to system operators across the region.
How long will the outage be?
Outage durations should generally be 60 minutes, however system conditions may necessitate a longer duration in some cases.
How long will this go on?
The window of greatest concern is through Wednesday morning.
How does SPP help us in this situation?
In this situation, all SPP members are doing their part. SPP is designed for members to support one another. If we have severe problems with our generation, as we did with the flooding in 2011 and 2019, we can lean on SPP and others in the group to keep us going and provide power to our customers.
Even if I do conserve, will my power still be cut?
That is a possibility, as this is a regional effort. However, conservation is helping to ensure that any outages we do have are short in duration.
Will I experience a service interruption more than once every 12 hours?
OPPD aims to rotate service interruptions as equitably as possible to avoid multiple outages to any one area. That being said, this is a large-scale issue impacting many states. Should our regional reliability coordinator, the Southwest Power Pool, extend the need for service interruptions, some areas could experience multiple outages. These decisions are made quickly as grid conditions change. However, should that occur, OPPD will communicate with customers as quickly as possible.
Would we still be in this situation if we had Fort Calhoun nuclear station or more coal on North Omaha Units 1, 2 and 3?
This is a regional issue and one generating facility would not be able to support the larger multi-state footprint. If Fort Calhoun Station were still online, the region would still be facing this challenge.
Will large users of power be asked to cut back first?
OPPD has asked large customers to curtail energy and many are participating in those efforts.
Are there going to be more outages?
It is a possibility, until the polar vortex passes and it gets warmer across the region.