Rolling blackouts put on hold in Kansas

UPDATED: 4 p.m.

Emergency energy interruptions have been put on hold by Evergy.

Early this afternoon, the company began shutting off power in 30-60 minute intervals to customers, to decrease the demand on the regional electric grid. Southwest Power Pool, which manages a grid across 17 states, had requested that action from the Kansas electricity company as demand on the grid exceeded its reserves, in the midst of a historic cold snap.

“In early afternoon they let us know that the system had stabilized and that we cut enough demand that we could stop interrupting customers,” Gina Penzig, Manager of External Communications for Evergy said. “These things happen fairly quickly.

She said however that as the weather is expected continue the emergency reductions could still be a possibility.

“ Unfortunately the regional grid, they’ll identify how much is needed,” she said.

She said that she encouraged customers to do what they could to keep the demand low.

She also said people should put together a power outage preparation plan.

She said that because electricity couldn’t really be stored by the grid but was consumed as it was produced, the need of electricity could change quickly.

“ We don’t have a good mechanism to let customers know ahead of time,” she said. “We’re working to keep the time short. I understand in these freezing temperatures any time is quite a lot.”

The Evergy company (formerly Westar Energy, Kansas Power and Light) serves 1.75 million customers.

Those impacted by outages in the future are asked to first check Evergy’s outage map for more information before making a report. 

“If you experience an outage that lasts longer than an hour, report your outage at www.evergy.com or call 888-544-4852 or 800-544-4857, for Kansas Central customers,” the release said.

The news of blackouts follows on the heels of dire warnings of massive gas bill hikes.

Cities across the region and the governor’s office have been sounding the alarm for people to conserve energy use due to the natural gas shortage caused by the nationwide arctic blast.

“Our natural gas management agency is telling us to expect an increase that would cause your bill for this time of the year to increase by 10 to 20 times normal,” Hesston City Administrator Gary Emry said. “As I am certain you will see a significant increase in your billing for this period, please take measures to conserve your natural gas usage immediately.”

Hesston is a part of the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency, a pool that purchases gas for other cities, such as Halstead, Burrton and Moundridge.

“Tuesday, natural gas was around $3.00 per unit […] Friday, it was $329 per unit,” the City of Moundridge stated in a release imploring its residents to conserve gas and electricity.

The Moundridge release said that the KMEA pool paid $30 million for gas to supply its members through the weekend. Those costs would be passed on to cities based on gas usage.

For context, Moundridge stated that it expects a gas bill for the month that will exceed half of its yearly budget for gas service.

Newton is served by the Kansas Gas Service. The company reported it is expecting record amounts of gas usage through the snap and dealing with the increased prices. As for how those increased gas prices would affect consumers, the company did not provide specific estimates when asked.

“We are seeing much higher natural gas use and a significant surge in natural gas market prices,” Dawn Tripp, spokeswoman for the company, stated via email. “While we do not mark up the price of natural gas, these events will have an impact on customer bills. At this time, we cannot quantify what the impact will be.”

As part of these gas shortages, Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency, which authorizes the use of state resources and personnel to assist with response and recovery efforts.

“As the extreme cold temperatures continue to affect the region, we are urging Kansans to conserve energy in order to help ensure a continued supply of natural gas and electricity and keep their own personal costs down,” she said.

In a state of emergency or disaster declaration,  profiteering, or “price gouging,” becomes illegal under Kansas statute 50-6,106.

The measure defines price gouging as a supplier charging a 25 or more percent increase on costs, compared to similarly available services in the “trade area” or a 25 or more percent increase on costs compared to the costs the previous business day.

However, if supplier costs increased by that amount over the time period, the increases would be justified and not qualify as price gouging under the statute.

It’s not just Kansas feeling the crunch. Millions of Texans have been left without power as electricity providers in that state have instituted rolling black outs in an attempt to conserve power and keep their grid from failing.

On the ground in central Kansas, residents are now left balancing their budgets, comfort and the safety of their water pipes.

Frozen water pipes have widely been reported throughout the area, with temperatures getting well below zero at night, wind chills approaching -30 degrees and no relief expected until at least Friday.

For those looking to save energy, suggestions provided include lowering the thermostat, putting on extra clothes and bundling up inside, turning off extra lights or other users of power, turning down the water heater, sealing leaks around the windows, holding off on doing chores requiring hot water, changing or cleaning air filters and taking shorter showers.

 

 

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