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Confusion Over Blackouts, Energy Conservation Urged in Extreme Cold

By Vince Lattanzio and David Chang
|  Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014  |  Updated 12:10 PM EDT
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The company that keeps the power on in our area extends its request to conserve energy during this bitter cold snap.  NBC10's George Spencer explains.

NBC10.com- George Spencer

The company that keeps the power on in our area extends its request to conserve energy during this bitter cold snap. NBC10's George Spencer explains.

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Confusion over whether PECO Energy would be forced to put rolling blackouts into effect because of high power demand from extreme cold has the energy company trying to set the record straight.

PJM Interconnect, a Valley Forge, Pa. based company that manages the energy grid for all or part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, issued a warning that the system could be overtaxed if energy demand was too high during sub-freezing temperatures on Tuesday. They issued a followup statement Tuesday night, asking their customers to conserve electricity into Wednesday.

PJM's initial warning prompted Delaware County Emergency Management to issue its own advisory that rolling power outages could be expected throughout the county.

Towns, like Radnor Township, then notified citizens about the power loss possibility/.

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"There is a distinct possibility of random thirty minute power shut downs during the day to conserve energy usage," read one email message sent by Radnor Township and obtained by NBC10. "Exemptions will be for critical care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. All others will be randomly affected by the shut downs with no prior notification from PECO."

However, PECO Energy spokeswoman Kathy Engel Menedez says that is not the case.

"We have not been ordered or asked to do rolling blackouts," she said. 

Engel Mendez says rolling blackouts is a last resort and would only be put into effect if PJM ordered the energy company and its counterparts to do so. 

Ed Truett, Emergency Management Director for Delaware County, said he issued the warning based off of PJM's advisory. He said PECO has asked him to recall the county-wide message.

PJM Interconnect, which supplies wholesale energy to 61 million people in 13 states, says it experienced record winter demand on Tuesday morning. According to officials, PJM set a new winter peak Tuesday morning of 138,600 megawatts. To put that in perspective, one megawatt is enough electricity to power 1,000 homes. Officials say that record is expected to be broken by later tonight as the grid operator projected a demand for electricity of about 140,000 megawatts.

The grid supplier originally asked customers in its service area to conserve energy from 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday and advised power companies to be prepared to supply emergency electricity. Tuesday night, PJM sent out another appeal, asking consumers to conserve electricity into Wednesday morning, especially from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

If the energy demand should get too high, PJM would first cut power to so-called "interruptable customers," according to PECO. These customers have an agreement with power suppliers to turn off their electricity service when needed -- in exchange for a reduced rate. Lowering the voltage being sent to customers is another action.

PECO serves 1.6 million customers in the Philadelphia region. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no power outages related to weather, Engel Menedez said.

"Our system is performing extremely well," she said adding that the company always supports energy efficiency.

PSE&G, the main energy supplier in New Jersey, also urged its customers to reduce usage Tuesday afternoon and evening.

PJM officials gave the following tips to customers for conserving energy.

  • Set thermostats lower than usual, if health permits
  • Postpone using major electric appliances such as stoves, dishwashers and clothes dryers until mid-day or after 9 p.m., when the demand for electricity decreases
  • Turn off electric lights and appliances that you do not need or are not using

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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