In the wake of the month’s earlier polar vortex that forced a record power demand, CU battled again late last week to keep its customers warm and did so without significant power outages.
And now comes Round 3. By the Southern definition of “cold,” it’s already here. But it’ll get worse before it gets better, meteorologists assure.
In the face of this latest chill from Old Man Winter’s icy breath, CU President and CEO Ken Webb over the weekend issued a public recognition to all who have played a hand in rising to overcome January’s dropping temperatures. He also reminded customers of the inevitable — electric bills will be soaring. Some have already hit mailboxes across the CU service territory. Others are on the way.
“The weather extremes experienced in our community in the month of January have been unusual and challenging,” Webb told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “The first blast of Arctic air occurred early in the month and another last week. This week promises to bring yet another blast of cold air.”
Weather forecasters agree. Temperatures in the Cleveland area could again approach single digits by Tuesday night. After possibly failing to climb to the freezing mark on Wednesday, they are expected to plummet again into the low teens by Wednesday night. No one is expected to break out the sunblock Thursday or Friday, but temperatures could at least return to the high 40s and maybe even 50.
But that’s then. This is now. Over the next couple of days, TVA and Cleveland Utilities power grids will again be tested by early morning peak demands.
Because the blustery polar vortex on Jan. 7 pushed Cleveland Utilities into record numbers with an all-time peak of 240,480 kilowatts — a demand that did create brief, isolated outages — and last week’s brush with the Arctic’s tentacles left area residents dreaming of the Bahamas, Webb acknowledged the hard work of utility personnel and the cooperation of CU customers.
“The extreme cold conditions have resulted in frozen water pipes, school closings, changes in work schedules, record demands on electric systems and other issues,” Webb said. “However, we have, up to this point, been able to ‘weather’ the storm. There are many people who need to be recognized for their cooperation and dedication during this time.”
Webb’s first outreach of appreciation went to those most responsible for the utility’s power grid staying online — Cleveland Utilities customers.
“Although some outages have occurred during [this cold month], they have been limited and resolved quickly,” Webb said. “Nevertheless, Cleveland Utilities recognizes the fact that any outage is an inconvenience and we thank our customers for their understanding and cooperation. Their cooperation in conserving electricity, when requested, resulted in possible additional outages being avoided.”
Routinely, requests for power conservation start with TVA. Depending on the stress placed on the giant utility’s grid, TVA operates on an ascending level of alerts. At a minimum, they can include requests for its utility partners to reduce their own energy loads by shutting down operations that are considered nonessential. At a maximum, TVA can broadcast alerts to partners to request their community customers to conserve wherever possible. This includes power curtailment agreements with major customers — Cleveland Utilities has about a dozen, the biggest of which is the Whirlpool Cleveland Division plant — to shut down their operations on short notice ... like say, five minutes.
In exchange, these commercial customers receive energy credits on their monthly bills.
During the recent polar vortex, CU invoked the power curtailment agreement. Whirlpool was one of the customers to shut down — on one day it was for electrical power demand, on a second day it was for natural gas conservation.
Last week’s Arctic blast, described as a “clipper” or a “cold snap,” wasn’t defined as a polar vortex but its skin-numbing wind chills still closed schools and kept Southeast Tennessee residents indoors.
It did force TVA to issue an appeal for power conservation which was broadcast as well by Cleveland Utilities.
“When it’s below 20 degrees, each time the temperature drops one degree, another 400 megawatts of electricity is needed,” according to Tim Ponseti, vice president of TVA Transmission Operations and Power Supply. “Setting your thermostat two to three degrees below normal ... can really help TVA manage the high power demand during this challenging time.”
That TVA appeal was issued for last Thursday night and Friday.
CU broadcast the TVA alert and added its own touch.
“Cleveland Utilities’ response to the frigid temperatures (a reference to both of January’s twin rounds of Arctic chill), has been twofold,” said Jamie D. Creekmore, CU customer relations representative. “The safety of our customers and the delivery of utilities to homes or businesses is very important to us. The utility recommends setting the thermostat at a safe temperature, and dress warmly to maintain physical well-being.”
David Orr, who also leads CU customer relations, pointed out, “Reducing the thermostat setting will allow less electric usage, and therefore reduce the demand on the electric system. These and other energy-saving measures are always good tips to use when the seasons change.”
Orr and Creekmore fingered electric heat pumps and water heaters as normally being the largest energy users in a home.
“... So making certain they are set at the most appropriate temperature is very important,” Creekmore stressed.
Orr added, “Also, verifying the water heater and water pipes are properly insulated can also protect you from potential frozen pipes and is another way of using energy wisely.”
Additional information is available by contacting CU at 472-4521 or dropping by the front lobby to pick up brochures and energy-conservation literature.
Webb’s acknowledgement of CU customers for their conservation measures also included a special recognition of his employees.
“Whether it is a water crew in a cold, wet, muddy trench repairing a broken water main, a line crew or substation personnel braving the elements to restore an electrical outage, or the personnel supporting the crews in the field, the employees and their skills are essential for reliable service,” Webb stressed. “Their dedication, skills and loyalty are to be commended.”
The CU president and CEO also acknowledged the painful byproduct of a cold winter — high utility bills.
“[This is an issue that is] on everybody’s mind,” Webb said. “The weather extremes certainly have the potential to result in higher bills. Some in the community may have a difficult time paying their utility bills as they come due. Customers who find themselves in this position, we ask them to please call us.”
He added, “We will make every effort possible to work with them and to direct them to agencies that may be able to assist.”
Webb spoke directly to CU customers when he offered, “Please call us (472-4521) as soon as you become aware of an issue. It is much easier to find a solution early in the process than when an account has become past due and subject to disconnect.”
Times like these are one of the reasons the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities in late 2012 approved a CU staff recommendation to launch Project Round-Up, a voluntary, customer-led emergency fund that supports Cleveland and Bradley County families struggling to pay utility bills or rent. The initiative has been overwhelmingly endorsed by CU customers whose participation allows the utility to “round up” their monthly bill to the next dollar. This loose change, which averages 51 cents per customer per month, is then transfered into an emergency fund account. These customer donations are then provided to The Caring Place whose professional social workers and counselors work with area families in need of utility or rent assistance.
As CU, and area residents, bundle up for this week’s coming round of unwelcomed Arctic air, Webb pointed to the strength in the cooperative partnership between the local utility and its 30,000-plus customer base.
“The employees of Cleveland Utilities are proud to be an integral part of this community and appreciate the understanding and cooperation of our customers at all times, but especially during the challenging weather extremes already seen in 2014,” Webb said.
Utility customers looking for ways to save on power consumption can get some tips from these TVA and CU suggestions:
- Turn down the thermostat. Lowering it just one degree can result in a savings of up to 3 percent.
- Postpone using electric appliances such as dishwashers, dryers and cooking equipment.
- Turn off nonessential lights, appliances, electronics and other electrical equipment.
Additional suggestions for saving on power bills and reducing electric demand can be found on the TVA and CU websites at Energy Right Solutions.