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Local Electricity Providers See Spike in Usage, Emergency Curtailment Program Initiated Tuesday Morning

By Jesse Wood 

Jan. 8, 2013. With electricity in high demand due to the subzero temperatures of the “polar vertex” late Monday and early Tuesday, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation (BREMCO) hit an all-time usage peak and Mountain Electric Cooperative (MEC) followed through on an emergency load curtailment program initiated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) earlier this morning.

Much of Laurel Creek was frozen on Tuesday morning. Photo by Jesse Wood
Much of Laurel Creek was frozen on Tuesday morning. Photo by Jesse Wood

“The TVA contacted us this morning and asked that we do a voluntary curtailment. They were at critical power supply load this morning, so they contacted all the distributers … throughout the valley – like Mountain Electric – to drop the thermostat down to 63 and turn off any unnecessary lights and asked us to reach out to customers to do the same thing,” Charlie Dunn, director of member services for MEC, said. 

Mountain Electric Cooperative, which has an office in Avery County, distributes electricity that the Tennessee Valley Authority generates.

Dunn said that Beech Mountain Resort and Sugar Mountain Resort were asked to limit snowmaking this morning and the highest energy user in Mountain City, yarn producer Parkdale Mills, was asked to shutdown for the time being. TVA announced the voluntary initiative at about 7 a.m. Tuesday and it lasted for four hours until about 11 a.m., Dunn said 

“TVA’s power system reached a preliminary peak power demand of 32,460 megawatts at 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday with the Valley’s average temperature at 4 degrees. This is the second highest winter peak in TVA history,” according to a TVA release on Tuesday. “TVA’s record winter demand is 32,572 megawatts set on Jan. 16, 2009, when temperatures averaged 9 degrees, and TVA’s all-time record is 33,482 megawatts set on Aug. 16, 2007 when temperatures average 102 degrees.”

While the TVA had its second-highest winter usage and third-highest overall usage, BREMCO “reached a new all-time peak of 383 megawatts of usage” on Tuesday, according to Lee Layton, chief operating officer of BREMCO.

“With temperatures dropping to their lowest in years in the cooperative’s service area, demand for electricity–primarily due to heating needs–is more than 10 percent higher than normal for this time of year,” a BREMCO release noted.

The 383 megawatts of usage that BREMCO experienced was 12 percent above its previous peak of 340 megawatts that also occurred on January 16, 2009. 

Like the TVA noted, BREMCO spokesman Renee Whitener said thankfully Mother Nature didn’t bring much precipitation because ice and “really heavy, wet snow” would have caused more power outages. 

Of the nearly 75,000 BREMCO customers spread across Western North Carolina, only 500 members were affected with outages caused by the high winds. That figure only included one member in Watauga, 49 members in Ashe County and two in Caldwell County.

“I’m also very proud of our crews and all our employees who respond rapidly when outages occur … They have a huge commitment to getting the heat and lights back on for our members and they don’t hesitate to respond, no matter the hour. They take a lot of pride in getting power restored as quickly and safely as possible,” Layton said. “Even with the high demand, our electric system was very dependable.”