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Extreme cold pressures energy supplies, blackouts hit Ardmore

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
A gas meter at an Ardmore home is surrounded by snow Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Blackouts left some southern Oklahomans in the dark on Tuesday morning as utility companies struggled to keep up with demand. Over a week of bitter cold temperatures forced utility providers to implement temporary outages for thousands of customers in the region for a few hours and continue to urge conservation efforts.

Just before 8 a.m. on Tuesday, over 4,500 OG&E customers were without power in Carter County and Marshall County, according to the OG&E outage tracker. Madill accounted for over 2,100 without power and Ardmore had over 1,100 customers without power.

By Tuesday afternoon, OG&E indicated that while service interruptions were not currently necessary, customers should prepare for planned disruptions. 

"Given the fluidity of the situation, OG&E may not be able to communicate all interruptions prior to their start time. Because of this, we are encouraging customers to prepare for the possibility of controlled service interruptions (for 1-2 hours) as these conditions continue," read the Tuesday afternoon statement.

"This will likely continue to be the case over the next few days because of the continued cold weather across the region and the demand for natural gas."

Southwest Power Pool, a power grid operator for a region spread across 14 states including Oklahoma, has been calling for conservation measures to mitigate the risk of outages ahead of Tuesday. A Level 1 Energy Emergency Alert declared by SPP on Sunday was elevated to a Level 3, the highest level of emergency, on Monday.

The SPP emergency was downgraded to Level 2 later on Monday but again returned to Level 3 at 6:46 a.m. on Tuesday.

“Systemwide generating capacity has dropped below our current load of ~42 GW due to extremely low temperatures and inadequate supplies of natural gas,” read a Tuesday morning statement from SPP. 

“We’ll be working with our member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of electric service throughout our region. This is done as a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”

OG&E commented on the elevated emergency and planned outages in a statement just before 7:30 a.m.

“SPP has directed us to implement temporary interruptions of service,” said OG&E spokesperson Brian Alford in a Tuesday morning statement. “These will be short-term, controlled interruptions and may continue through mid-week.”

Outages in Ardmore started before 7 a.m. and OG&E notices to customers estimated the planned outages would last up to two hours. At 10:15 a.m., OG&E said that the service interruptions were no longer needed.

"Southwest Power Pool has notified OG&E that temporary service interruptions are not required at this time. We continue to coordinate with SPP should more action be required. While temporary service interruptions are not being required at this time, the continued extreme cold weather forecasted (sic) for the region, combined with the high demand for natural gas, increases the potential for the reinstatement of these short-term service interruptions," read the Tuesday notice.

OG&E on Monday reported two planned power outages in Ardmore affecting 1,822 customers. Attempts to clarify further planned outages or estimated times with OG&E representatives were unsuccessful by press time Tuesday.

While area hospitals are mostly unaffected by the power interruptions, vaccination efforts with the Oklahoma State Department of Health remain severely impacted by the winter weather. Health department spokesperson Julie Williamson said vaccine shipments to the state have been delayed.

Preparations for winter weather also led to no appointments being scheduled last week. “What would have gone in last week, where people could have gotten scheduled for this week, has not been done,” Williamson said on Tuesday.

“As soon as we have the shipments confirmed, then we can set some schedules,” she said.

Mercy Hospital facilities in Ardmore and Healdton have been preparing for the weather and are not impacted by any planned power interruptions. Media relations Executive Director Nancy Corbett said that both campuses in Carter County have power generators and other assets needed to continue operations throughout the unusually cold weather.

“We have salt, sand and co-workers at the ready to make sure our campuses are safe for our patients and visitors. If needed, we could also provide lodging for our co-workers in our old patient care tower,” Corbett said.

After a massive spike in COVID-19 cases in January, the number of hospitalized patients at Mercy Hospital Ardmore has dropped significantly. On Tuesday morning, Mercy Hospital Ardmore was caring for 13 patients with COVID-19, four of whom were receiving ICU treatment.

“Because the current patient volumes are less today, some of our team members have been able to stay home to deal with the cold weather issues,” Corbett said.

This story has been updated to include a Tuesday afternoon statement from Oklahoma Gas & Electric