The extreme cold gripping Nebraska and much of the middle of the country has led to rolling blackouts in Lincoln and much of Nebraska.
The Southwest Power Pool, a 17-state regional transmission organization, on Monday morning issued an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3, signaling that its operating reserves are below the required minimum. The organization told its member utilities, which include Lincoln Electric System and many other Nebraska utilities, to be prepared to implement controlled interruptions of service if necessary.
LES announced Monday afternoon that it would start shutting off power in areas of the city in 30- to 60-minute increments. According to the outage map on the LES website, the outages started in far southeast Lincoln and initially affected about 2,500 customers.
“Due to an unprecedented energy demand during record low temperatures, the Southwest Power Pool, Lincoln Electric System’s regional reliability coordinator, has notified utilities within its regional footprint that energy curtailments are required,” the utility said in a news release.
“SPP declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3, which means utilities across the SPP region have been instructed to begin rotating planned outages because there is not enough power available to keep up with customer demand. Rotating planned outages are controlled, temporary interruptions of electrical service implemented by utilities when it is necessary for SPP to reduce demand on the system. This type of demand reduction is only used as a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric grid.”
Lincoln residents were already reporting power outages as of about 12:30 p.m. Monday. The only entities exempt from the blackouts are “critical load” customers such as hospitals.
As of 1:45 p.m., LES reported that the rolling blackouts had ceased, but the utility warned people to be prepared for them to resume at any time.
SPP had been at a Level 2 alert, which required its members to ask customers to turn down their thermostats and take other measures to conserve energy, which they did over the weekend.
LES spokeswoman Kelley Porter said the utility set a winter peak demand record on Sunday, using 613 megawatts of power. The previous record was 601 megawatts in January 2018.
Porter said electricity demand Monday and Tuesday was likely to exceed the record set on Sunday.
The situation was especially dire for power plants that rely on natural gas. Nebraska Public Power District held an emergency board meeting by telephone Saturday at which it passed a resolution authorizing millions of dollars in additional funding for the Beatrice Power Station. The resolution said the plant had already exceeded its spending by more than $15.8 million.
The power issues come as a record cold snap has slammed several states.
Lincoln shattered its record low temperature Monday morning and was headed for its coldest day in more than three decades.
The mercury hit minus-16 Monday morning, easily besting the previous record low of minus-11. The National Weather Service was forecasting a high temperature of only minus-5, which would be the first time since 1996 the city has failed to reach 0 and the coldest daytime high in Lincoln since December 1989.
The average high for Feb. 15 in Lincoln is 40 degrees, and the average low is 18.
Lincoln was actually one of the warmer spots in the state overnight. Hastings dipped to minus-26 and Valentine tumbled to a whopping minus-33.
Wind chills dropped as low as minus-36 Monday morning in Lincoln as it and much of the state remained in a wind chill warning through at least noon on Tuesday. Some areas of the state reported wind chills of minus-55.
Problems related to the cold were reported Sunday, which made it to 0 early in the morning but saw temperatures tumble throughout Valentine’s Day.
In Omaha, the Nebraska Department of Corrections had to move 59 juvenile offenders from the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility to the Omaha Correctional Center because its boiler system was unable to keep up with the extreme cold and could not fully heat the facility.
Lincoln Public Schools canceled classes Tuesday because of the forecast cold temperatures. LPS students were already scheduled to have a day off on Monday for Presidents Day, but a number of other school districts canceled school or started late because of the cold. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln called off in-person classes both Monday and Tuesday, and Southeast Community College canceled classes at all of its campuses on Monday.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced that a number of Test Nebraska COVID-19 testing sites across the state would be closed Monday because of the extreme cold. The Lincoln test site at Gateway Mall was scheduled to open at noon.
On Monday, the men’s shelter at the People’s City Mission slightly exceeded its capacity with 200 men keeping warm there, CEO Tom Barber said.
“I would be surprised (if) there’s anyone out on the streets,” he said.
Late last week as temperatures plunged, about 50 men who typically live on the streets or in camps came to stay at the Mission, Barber said.
The family shelter at the Mission had as many as 100 women and children staying there, but some have been moved to local motels, he said.
The Mission suspended its pandemic policy of testing each resident for COVID-19 upon arrival to ensure people feel comfortable coming there for refuge from the frigid weather, he said. Masks are still required.
“At this point, we think the weather is more dangerous than the virus,” Barber said.
The extreme cold is forecast to continue into Tuesday, when morning lows are forecast to drop as low as minus-25 to minus-30. Lincoln’s forecast low of minus-25 Tuesday morning, if it occurs, would tie for the 10th coldest temperature ever recorded and would be the coldest weather experienced in the city since it hit minus-27 on Dec. 22, 1983.
The good news is that the weather service is forecasting a gradual warmup that could have temperatures above freezing by the weekend. After a high of 2 on Tuesday, the forecast for Lincoln calls for highs of 14 on Wednesday, 17 on Thursday, 26 on Friday, 33 on Saturday and 35 on Sunday.