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Gas, Electric Outages Likely Across Region As Fuel Supplies Dwindle From Record Cold

Southwest Power Pool
The Southwest Power Pool service territory.

This is a developing story.

Utility providers say Oklahomans could experience outages, both planned and unplanned, in gas and electric service.

"Persistent and extreme cold weather has led to region-wide electricity use that exceeds available generation across the Southwest Power Pool service territory," said SPP, the regional transmission organization that manages the electric grid in a service area spanning 14 states, including all of Oklahoma, in a statement.

"After exhausting usage of available reserve energy, SPP has now subsequently directed its member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of service to prevent further, more widespread and uncontrolled outages," the statement reads.

Reached by phone Monday morning, before the SPP statement, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) spokesperson Stan Whiteford said that would be a first for the company.

"Hopefully we can avoid going to any other type of measures that would involve any type of planned, temporary outages," Whiteford said. "We're hoping that we don't get to that point. We've never had to do that here. We've never had that here."

Whiteford said the issue is the cold snap's triggering of an overwhelming demand for natural gas, which is used both to heat buildings and generate electricity at power plants.

"It's primarily due to tightening fuel supplies caused by this extreme cold weather. Basically what I mean by that is the fuel that power plants need to generate electricity. They're having a hard time getting the fuel to the plants, natural gas. Some of the wind energy is offline, frozen up, throughout the whole central United States, which is all part of the Southwest Power Pool," Whiteford said.

"PSO asks its customers to turn down thermostats and reduce usage of large appliances to limit the use of electricity, so that no further measures are necessary.  The company stresses that customers should use energy needed for personal safety and to protect against property damage but minor adjustments to thermostats and other measures can make a significant difference to the system," PSO said in a Sunday statement.

Oklahoma Natural Gas is also calling on customers to reduce their natural gas usage.

“Based on past experiences, when temperatures fall to these levels, there can be disruptions in the amount of natural gas received from our suppliers," ONG vice president of operations Kent Shortridge said at a Sunday virtual press conference. "We are planning for shortages, and putting measures in place to keep gas service to our customers and critical facilities. This is why we are asking our customers to conserve the amount of natural gas they are using throughout the duration of this event."

ONG said in a Saturday statement that cost may be passed on to customers.

"While we do not markup 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," the company said.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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