Arkansas utility companies are asking people to conserve electricity usage as the state braces for another round of winter weather. Companies say heavy snowfall and unusually cold temperatures have prompted many consumers to use a substantial amount of natural gas and electricity to stay warm in their homes.
Melody Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management, says lowering thermostats to within the 60 to 65 degree temperature range will help conserve power.
"Heating sources are the biggest draw during these extended cold weather events," Daniel said. "So, if you’re able to reduce that by about five degrees or so, and then bundle up, wear a few extra layers and maybe have a blanket with you, that is just one simple step that most Arkansans can take that will drastically reduce the load on the power grid and help our electricity stay on."
Although the state has experienced many power outages, Daniel says they aren’t long-term and this serves as an indication that people are "doing the right thing."
"If you look at us having outages across the state of Arkansas for brief periods of time and you look at our neighbors, particularly in Texas and Louisiana, and see that they’re having massive widespread power outages for lengthy amounts of time, I would say that’s an indication that some people are getting the message," Daniel said.
The National Weather Service predicts parts of the state could see six to eight new inches of snow late Tuesday night through Thursday morning. Daniel says energy providers will judge if there needs to be a planned outage based on how much electricity is used, and the amount of precipitation the state receives. She warns that some of the outages will be a result of the storm or the power grid being overburdened.
During his weekly press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke at length about the challenges posed by a shortage of natural gas due to conditions in Oklahoma and Texas and many wells being left inoperable because of the freezing temperatures.
“This will remain a challenge for us in the coming days and we need to take steps to conserve energy,” Hutchinson said.
He noted that the Southwest Power Pool, which supplies power to part of the state, had “controlled interruptions of electric service” between 7 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. Tuesday to prevent a larger system failure.
“The system is operating below minimum reserve and energy conservation remains critical and that word has gone out to Arkansans,” Hutchinson said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Entergy Arkansas was not expecting to have any planned outages, according to spokeswoman Brandi Hinkle. But that could change.
"We are not forcing outages at this point in time. There are other utilities in this state who are doing that right now to handle the load, but the work that Arkansans are doing to conserve their usage is working, so we ask that they continue to do that," Hinkle said.
If Entergy Arkansas does have to intentionally cut service, she says it may come without warning.
"If it happens, it will happen quickly. We unfortunately may not be able to alert customers that we will be shutting off their power," she said.
Some outages may be brief, Hinkle said, and not the result of the rate of electricity consumption.
"You may normally get your electricity from line A and we’re going to temporarily put you on line B because we know that these are dangerously cold temperatures out there and it’s important for people to heat their homes," Hinkle said.
UPDATE, 10:55 p.m.
On Tuesday evening, without advance notice to customers, Entergy Arkansas did begin rolling outages in Arkansas and three other states served by its parent company. Entergy later said in a statement:
The company is taking this action as directed by our reliability coordinator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, as a last resort and in order to prevent more extensive, prolonged power outages that could severely affect the reliability of the power grid. The directive includes all of MISO’s south region, spanning from Arkansas to Texas to the Gulf South.
On Twitter, Entergy Arkansas said the rolling blackouts began at 7 p.m. and were ended by 9 p.m. The company also said this about not giving customers any prior warning:
We understand you'd like to have been given notice before the mandatory rolling outages began this evening. Unfortunately, the need to implement outages is followed very quickly by the execution of the outages. We simply didn't have time to give advance notice.
— Entergy Arkansas (@EntergyArk) February 17, 2021
Entergy Arkansas has said rolling blackouts remain a possiblity for the rest of the week. The statement released by the company said, "Entergy will work to limit the duration of each outage, but due to significant demand on the system and generation outages, options may be limited."