SOUTH ARKANSAS (KTVE/KARD) 2/17/21 — Chris Wasson, an Entergy Customer Services Manger in Union County, talks with KTVE/KARD reporter Gabrielle Phifer about your questions and concerns about the rolling blackout that happened Tuesday night.
According to Wasson 2,364 customers in El Dorado were affected by the blackout and 1,926 customers in Magnolia. Camden wasn’t affected. In Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Dallas, Desha, Drew counties approximately 3,900 customers were affected.
Below are questions that were sent in by some customers.
1) Where’s the rolling blackouts when it’s 100+ for multiple days during the summer? Air conditioning running constantly isn’t the equivalent to heating running constant?
Answer: The answer to that is that it actually takes more power to run a lot of our heating devices than it does for the air conditioning. You have a lot of folks who are using those heating systems and they are staying on constantly because it’s so cold so you’re seeing a lot more of a load that comes from those heating devices because people not only have those heaters but a lot of people plug in those electric heaters that they plug into the wall in addition to their HVAC system. That’s why we’re seeing more a load during this time of year than when it’s a 100 plus degrees outside.
2) Why wasn’t a notification sent out of the planned rolling blackout at least 1 hour ahead of time and also include the duration of how long it will last?
Answer: We don’t plan on when we have to cut off this load. It all comes from MISO which is the Mid Conteninent Independent System operator and so they are the ones who monitor our generation fleet that’s all across the United States. They are the ones that alert to let us know the grid is in a critical condition and we must implement these rolling blackouts. It’s an instaneuos request to reduce load. We don’t plan ‘hey at 5 p.m. we’re going to have this rolling blackout event. It happens at the spur of a moments notice and so we’re not notified except at the last minute and it’s time for action. So we had no time to get the word out about these rolling black out starting Otherwise we would be happy to get the word out and communicate with customers that we know it’s important for them to know when they are going to lose power and for how long.
3) Why couldn’t rolling blackout have been done in the day time?
Answer: It’s all based on the instaneous demand. So, you have so much generation capacity to meet the demand that’s on the grid. Once the demand reaches the demand where it has no capacity to meet that demand then we have to have the rolling blackouts. We don’t get to choose what time that is. It’s all based on what time and so that’s why we saw it at the 7 p.m. time frame last night and it lasted until 9 p.m. That’s actually the time during this time of year that a lot of people are coming home and turning on their heating system. They are cooking. They are cleaning, washing dishes, washing clothes. All of that combines to a large demand on our system. So that’s what caused the load to have to be shed during that window was due to the amount of strain our system.
4) What are the benefits to the rolling blackouts?
Answer: If we were not able to do the blackouts we could see damage to the electrical grid and then you’re talking about a blackout that lasts much longer and in some cases prevent us from restoring power for quite some time. I compare it to overheating a car. If your car begins to overheat, you don’t want to keep pressing the gas and keep that engine running at its highest level because it could create damage inside the car. It could crack a block. You could cause several kinds of damage so that it won’t run period after that. But if you’re allowed to shut that car off and let it cool down and start it back up later on, it will hopefully help mitigate whatever is causing it to overheat. It’s the same thing with our grid we have to allow time for it to recooperate and then bring customers back on. It has to happen when the load is there. If you allow your car to overheat and you allow it to keep going and you say, ‘well I think I’ll shut it off tomorrow’. You can’t do that. You have to turn it off then. You can’t wait.
5) What’s the process with that?
Answer: MISO is responsible for making sure we have reliable rand responsible electricity and they use multiple generation to be able to provide us with electricity. We have solar, nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric. All of those generation locations are available to the MISO market and they make sure we choose the least expensive generation source so whenever they say that our demand is ‘x’ and they need to be able to meet that demand they choose from the least expensive generation source and it’s help keep our energy prices low. It’s very important that we help keep rates low. During this time, the weather is so extreme and so cold that there’s not enough generation capacity to be able to meet demand and so that’s why we are seeing a lot of these rolling blackouts.
6) Why do they not shut off businesses that are already shut down due to road conditions? That would alleviate alot of the pressure.
Answer: The purpose of having these rolling blackouts is to reduce the instaeneous load so if you have a business that’s already closed down and probably not using much power you don’t get much benefit with them shutting off power to the place because there’s not much load there to begin with. We had to shut load off on circuits where we were seeing a good bit of load and that’s why we have to turn off those circuits.
7) What will they do to prevent this in the future?
Answer: A lot of that is no one has crystal ball to be able to determine how bad things are going to get. When a grid is designed and plans are made for generation resources, those plans are made based off of historical temperatures. What we are seeing here is something we haven’t seen in many many years so it was unexpected. That question will be something for MISO to explain as well. That’s where we a lot of our generation source. On the Entergy side of the things we’ve done everything we can to prevent outages during this time. We have employees monitoring stations every 30 minutes to get readings and reports.
8) I love our local energy guys and have zero complaints about them. They are heroes all the time for us. But I would like clearer proof from the corporate people that they really needed to do this especially in the seemingly limited and pointless way way they did it. It seemed more like a test than a safety strategy. But I’m open to learning the facts.
Answer: We would not test a system like that. This is something that had to be done to prevent further damage to the grid. We would never implement rolling blackouts unless it absolutely had to be done. We know what electricity means to our customers. A lot of people rely on it for safety so we don’t take that lightly. It’s very important.
9) So if it went by grid and I live by large businesses here in El Dorado? Why did we lose power and not them? Will it always be affected this way? Don’t large businesses have generators?
Answer: We curtail based off the load on each circuit and we also try to be very critical of infrastructures such as hospitals and some of these businesses that are critical and need to remain operating due to safety reason. So, we try to make sure we are very sensitive to those critical businesses as well so we will curtail and reduce use on circuits and try to be as responsible as we can be. So, you may live by a large business but they may be on a different circuit than what you are. So, it really depends on what circuit you’re tied to.
10) Why not turn off the Christmas lights on Hillsboro? Lights on businesses that are closed?
Answers: It’s for a number of reasons. One reason is just the actual light. It’s very minimal to when you compare it to the overall percentage of what’s being used like heating systems and portable heaters that people plug up to the wall. Those have much more demand and pull than what a light does. Also, we would have to go and physically turn those lights off and we don’t have enough resources to go out and turn off lights when we’re actually working to try and keep power on.
11) How do we not get to the point where we are in the same situation as TX. Initially, they were told the blackouts would be 30 minutes then that turned into hours which turned into days.
Answers: I want to give a lot of credit to the customers who reduce their usage. We’re all in this together. So, people who were able to reduce their usage prevented this rolling blackout for being any longer than the duration so our blackouts started around 7 p.m. and was over around 9 p.m. It only impaced about 60,000 customers across the entire state. We encourage customers to continue limiting their usage. Our household has done the same thing. Our thermostat is actually set on 66. We haven’t washed any clothes in the last three days. We have had to conserve our lifestyle to conserve as much electricity as possible. That has prevented those blackouts from being worse than what they were.
Wasson couldn’t disclose which areas (urban or rural) received the most outages.
Wasson: These are good questions and I think we all get better by asking questions so we welcome the questions and hope that we can provide some insight into how things happened because people need to know.
If you have any more concerns, you can relay those issues to Entergy Arkansas.