Power out? Do not call 911

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Sub-zero temperatures and wind chills lingered in the area, forcing higher than normal electrical and natural gas use and emergency rolling blackouts across Kansas.

County officials do not know if Harvey County will be subject to rolling power outages as energy companies try to conserve energy during the polar vortex causing bone-chilling temperatures.

"Do not call 911, there is really nothing we can do about that down there," said Don Gruver, director of Harvey County communications. "You should call your power company."'

The Southwest Power Pool, which manages Kansas and 16 other states, issued a "level 3 emergency" alert on Feb. 15 — something that had not been done for 40 years. 

Rolling power outages began in Kansas on Monday. On Wednesday, Evergy reported on the company website that "at this time, Evergy is NOT implementing controlled, temporary emergency electricity reductions," even as the Southwest Power Pool kept emergency declarations in place.

"We hope this is a short-term event," said Gary Denny, emergency management director of Harvey County. "But if you watched the weather, we are not going to get to above freezing until Friday. Hopefully we will be in the 50s by Monday."

Gruver and Denny spoke with the Harvey County Commission on Tuesday, and the same day more than 270,0000 Kansans were subject to power outages — even as the Southwest Power Pool lifted its requirement for the emergency electricity reductions. The power pool continued to operate under emergency energy alerts as extended cold temperatures continued to strain the regional power grid, reserving the right to request additional outages. 

The past few days have featured dangerous wind chills as low as minus 30 degrees during the stretch. That can lead to frostbite within 30 minutes. It has also led to increased power consumption, according to Evergy. 

Evergy supplies electrical service to about half of Harvey County, geographically.   Evergy advised customers that they should not call to report a power outage unless the power outage extends past 60 minutes.

The public can check Evergy’s outage map at www.evergy.com/outageinfo for more information.

If the outage does last beyond an hour, customers may then report it at www.evergy.com or call 888-544-4852 or 800-544-4857.

Evergy advised all customers should be prepared for a power outage while the emergency order is in effect. 

Gruver said he expects the Harvey County dispatch center to take calls from other counties as those counties get blacked out. 

 At the request of the Southwest Power Pool and Evergy is asking customers to conserve electricity use as much as possible. The Southwest Power Pool coordinates a 17-state regional power supply and advised Monday "that the region’s coldest weather in decades is creating high demand for electricity. At the same time, the extreme weather is driving high demand for natural gas used to heat homes and businesses, straining the gas supply available to generate electricity, and icy conditions have made availability of wind generation uncertain."

The Southwest Power Pool, one of nine sections of power grids in the U.S., monitors power flow through its footprint and coordinates regional response in emergency situations.

There are five power providers within Harvey County — Evergy, Sedgwick County ECA, Butler REC, Flint Hills RECA and the Ark Valley ECA. All of them are under the mandate of the Southwest Power Pool to conserve energy.

"We are not guaranteed any forewarning," said Gary Denny, emergency management director of Harvey County. "Evergy is the only one that has stating that they will try and keep these (outages) from 30 to 60 minutes in duration, but there has not been assurances or comments from other providers in Harvey County."

In addition to the SPP call for reductions, its peers in Texas and the upper Midwest are also facing electricity shortages and are asking customers to conserve.

Denny said Harvey County and the Red Cross have discussed whether or not to set up warming stations or shelters for those who lose power — however at this time have not moved forward with those plans as the outages have been limited to a hour or less. 

"If we need to enact those, we will do so," Denny said. 

Evergy has issued energy conservation guidelines for the cold snap. Those guidelines include: 

• Turn thermostats a little cooler (65-68 degrees).

• Avoid the use of electric space heaters.

• Close blinds and shades to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.

• Turn off unnecessary lights and appliances.

• When possible, delay non-essential uses of energy (washing/drying clothes, washing dishes and bathing) to hours lower in energy use (between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.).

• Use low-temperature cooking methods and avoid opening the oven door if it’s on.

• Businesses should reduce the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.

• Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing nonessential processes.