Polar vortex puts heat on CU
by By RICK NORTON Associate Editor
Jan 08, 2014 | 1111 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A WATER MAIN BROKE early Tuesday morning at the intersection of Guthrie and Andrew drives, causing a road closure on Guthrie Drive between Andrew Drive and Little Street. Due to the frigid temperatures Tuesday, the hill between the two streets remained a solid sheet of ice. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
A WATER MAIN BROKE early Tuesday morning at the intersection of Guthrie and Andrew drives, causing a road closure on Guthrie Drive between Andrew Drive and Little Street. Due to the frigid temperatures Tuesday, the hill between the two streets remained a solid sheet of ice. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
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Heat-seeking households, businesses and manufacturers battling the frigid air of a distorted polar vortex pushed Cleveland Utilities to record demand Tuesday morning by reaching an all-time peak of 240,480 kilowatts, the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities learned in formal session later in the day.

Reached from 8 to 9 a.m., the new record exceeded the old by 3.4 percent.

CU’s previous record came in January 2009, when a 9-degree morning pumped power demand to 232,546 kW, according to Bart Borden, vice president of CU’s Electric Division. By comparison, a 103-degree day in August 2007, peaked electricity need to 229,304 kW.

Tuesday’s totals shamed a pair of prior Januarys that — at the time — seemed unbearably cold.

“We had similar weather conditions occurring in January 1994 and January 1996 with 2-degree mornings,” Borden told board members whose formal monthly session ironically fell on the heels of the Arctic chill’s 48-hour assault on the utility’s Electric Division.

“[But in ’94 and ’96], we only experienced 202,000 kW and 215,000 kW during these events,” he added.

Tuesday’s peak loads turned the deep freezes of the mid-90s into laughers; at least, by current standards.

“Today’s [Tuesday’s] peaks are 19 percent and 12 percent greater than those events,” Borden added.

Put in perspective, it meant tough times for a utility whose crews and equipment were working overtime to keep customers warm while satisfying alerts by TVA to curtail use.

“It has been a challenging [Monday] night, a challenging [Tuesday] morning and a challenging day for the electric system,” an exhausted Borden told board members late Tuesday.

Reporting to the governing body earlier than normal on the agenda in order to return to work in time for a 4 p.m. electric switchover deadline, Borden updated the group on a series of challenges that befell the Electric Division beginning Monday night after the Arctic blast had stretched its icy fingers well into the Deep South.

“On Monday ... at 6 p.m., TVA issued an Emergency Power System Alert Step 10, which requires all local power companies to turn off all non-essential loads in their facilities,” Borden explained. “This included water and wastewater facilities for Cleveland Utilities.”

Before continuing, Borden credited CU Water Division Vice President Craig T. Mullinax for his department’s cooperation in responding to the TVA Step 10 Alert.

As the evening progressed, a fitting cliche might have been “... out of the fire and into the frying pan.” But enduring heat wasn’t CU’s challenge; instead, the issue was making it.

Calling Tuesday “... an eventful day,” Borden said it started at 3:03 a.m. when the Lang Street Substation tripped off line due to a load imbalance. This interrupted power to 3,494 customers; however, the loads were transferred to CU’s East Cleveland and District substations, thereby restoring power to the Lang Street Substation at 3:39 a.m.

“This [period] should not have adversely affected homes [serviced by the Lang Street Substation],” he said.

But that was just the beginning of Borden’s eventful day.

“At 7 a.m., TVA issued an Emergency Power System Alert 30,” Borden reported to board members. “They actually skipped Step 20 and went straight to Step 30. This is the furthest I’ve ever experienced TVA going ... and going that quickly.”

About that Step 20 that was skipped?

“Step 20 requires all TVA local power companies to notify the public to conserve electricity by turning off all non-essential loads, such as lighting, appliances and turning their thermostats down,” Borden explained. “The media was notified to issue a public announcement. In addition, large power-consumption customers were notified to turn off non-essential loads.”

Step 20 includes calling into play power curtailment contracts with major electricity users who receive monthly billing credits in exchange for their willingness to shut down operations on late notice in order to lessen demand on the TVA and CU power grids. These are called “interruptable customers” because their curtailment agreements mean they are agreeable to temporarily halting electrically powered operations either on a five-minute or a 60-minute notice. Only major companies with a usage of 5,000 kW or higher qualify for this plan.

Dicky Walters, plant leader at Whirlpool Cleveland Division, confirmed early today that the local manufacturer — which is Bradley County’s largest employer — voluntarily shut down operations for Tuesday in compliance with the CU/TVA power curtailment program. The plant is also shut down today due to a similar gas curtailment initiative.

Cleveland Utilities also has about a dozen other major customers operating on similar agreements. The group includes some smaller manufacturers and a few schools, Borden said.

Step 30, which might be compared to the U.S. military’s DEFCON 2, requires all TVA local power companies to reduce overall system voltage by 5 percent, to turn on available capacitor banks to support system voltage and to notify appropriate agencies and public officials.

Along with accommodating TVA’s needs, Cleveland Utilities had to deal with problems of its own.

At 7:35 a.m. Tuesday, a CU breaker identified as W-214 tripped off due to imbalance and it interrupted power to 2,060 customers, Borden said.

“The W-214 breaker was closed at 7:38 a.m. and power was restored to 807 customers,” he cited. “The Ocoee load on this breaker was removed and the Ocoee Substation was placed back in service and 0-214 was closed at 7:49 a.m., restoring power to 1,261 customers.”

The significance of placing the Ocoee Substation back in service is that it was temporarily off line to accommodate the Durkee Road widening project by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. But keeping Cleveland residents warm took priority so the Ocoee facility was reconnected to the power grid.

Not all the CU Electric Division challenges Tuesday were weather-related.

“At 8:47 a.m., a truck struck and broke a [utility] pole on Dellwood Lane, knocking power out to 690 customers,” Borden reported. “The problem was isolated very quickly by our crews and power was restored at 9:16 a.m. This outage was not directly weather-related ... but very untimely.”

All’s well that ends well?

Well ... sort of.

At 9 a.m., TVA notified Cleveland Utilities to end Step 20 and Step 30, and at noon TVA notified CU to end Step 10.

Of course, the Arctic blast into the Deep South was expected to continue through Tuesday night and well into Wednesday morning. But temperatures are expected to rise as the distorted polar vortex begins its gradual ascent north and eventually returns to the Arctic Circle from whence it came.

And none too soon for Borden and crew.

“We have seen [kW] load growth ... but in 20 years’ time we’ve not seen these extreme temperatures to know exactly the kind of loads we would have in these conditions,” Borden stressed.

Experience is often the toughest teacher, but in the Electric Division vice president’s assessment, the system worked.

“I feel like our system did extremely well,” Borden said. “I feel like our employees performed extremely well. They are very skilled. Our outside crews ... they did an outstanding job. I just want to thank them for their efforts.”

So did the utility board members.

On a motion by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who represents the City Council on the utility board, the group voted 5-0 to commend Cleveland Utilities and its staff on behalf of its customer base and the Cleveland community for their efforts “... to keep the lights on and the heat running” over the course of the Arctic blast.

Other board members favoring the commendation included Aubrey Ector, chairman; and Eddie Cartwright, vice chairman; as well as members Joe Cate and Chari Buckner.

It’s not all about

CU electricity

More than just Electric Division crews stayed busy Monday, Monday night and Tuesday.

Water Division Vice President Craig Mullinax reported Tuesday morning his division received 52 calls from panicked water customers who had lost their water supply reportedly due to frozen pipes.

In all cases, CU attempts to work with customers in resolving their water problems, but Mullinax pointed out proactive actions are the best defense against frozen pipes.

Although the Water Division staffs two clerks who dispatch emergency crews to customers within an hour of a call, Mullinax urged customers — at least through the course of the current Arctic cold wave, and preferably well beyond it — to take three key actions.

These include:

1. Secure the crawl space under the house; in other words, close the exterior vents during the coldest periods of winter.

2. Wrap any external pipes that are exposed to weather elements; this includes covering exterior water faucets.

3. Allow both the hot and cold water taps inside the house to slowly drip during the cold wave.

“Being proactive is the best way to keep water pipes from freezing,” Mullinax stressed.

He described them as a “common sense” approach that in most cases will safeguard against being forced to call a plumber or Cleveland Utilities the next morning.

In cases of frozen pipes, Mullinax encouraged CU customers to call the utility company first to determine the cause and location of ice blockages.

TVA peak falls

short of record

According to a TVA public statement, the utility reached its preliminary peak power demand at 9 a.m. Tuesday of about 32,460 megawatts. The Tennessee Valley’s average temperature was about 4 degrees. In Cleveland, the mercury reportedly dipped to 3.6 degrees.

This was TVA’s second highest winter peak demand.

The regional utility’s record winter demand came Jan. 16, 2009, when temperatures averaged about 9 degrees. The peak usage then was 32,572 megawatts.

However, TVA’s all-time record didn’t come in winter. Instead, it fell on Aug. 16, 2007, when temperatures averaged 102 degrees, forcing a megawatt peak demand of 33,482.

That’s a lot of megawatts.

Although temperatures in the TVA region are expected to slowly rise today, the utility predicts power demand will continue to be high until warming conditions this weekend bring another familiar component of the weather — rain.