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'Extreme stress': 270,000 Evergy customers were affected by rolling blackouts Tuesday

India Yarborough
Topeka Capital-Journal
Fewer than 5,000 Evergy customers were still without power as of about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

A total of about 270,000 Evergy customers were affected by power outages Tuesday — up from the roughly 100,000 affected that morning.

In a conference call with members of the media late Tuesday afternoon, Chuck Caisley, Evergy's senior vice president and chief customer officer, said fewer than 5,000 customers were still without power as of about 4 p.m. He also noted that not all of the remaining outages were due to controlled disruptions of service.

Caisley said customers who lost service — which accounted for about 16% of the customer base — weren't all affected at the same time, as most outages were spread out between 7 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.

More:Rolling blackouts in Kansas restart renewable energy debate among state lawmakers

The latter time is when transmission company Southwest Power Pool, which manages energy supply in Kansas and 16 other states, called off its request that member utilities, including Evergy, implement rolling blackouts to ensure grid stability.

"The No. 1 goal in everything we have done today and over the last 48 hours," Caisley said, "has been to ensure grid stability and to avoid a much longer, much larger and uncontrolled outage where people could be out half a day, overnight, multiple days."

What caused the longer Evergy power outages?

On Tuesday, many Evergy customers experienced outages of two to three hours.

Caisley said the longer-than-expected outages were due, in part, to the fact that Southwest Power Pool that morning requested Evergy reduce five times the demand load it reduced Monday.

In simpler terms, a utility being asked to reduce demand load means it is being asked to take stress off the power grid — and temporarily restricting service is one way to do that.

"(Southwest Power Pool) also requested that we keep that demand reduced for three-plus times (longer than) what we had to (Monday)," Caisley said. "As a result, many of the outage times customers experienced today were a little longer than we intended of 30 to 90 minutes."

Any customers still without power late in the day were told to contact Evergy's call center to report their outages.

Possibility of outages Wednesday didn't materialize

On Tuesday, Caisley also indicated customers in the utility's service area might see additional outages Wednesday, as Southwest Power Pool had indicated it would likely fluctuate between emergency alert levels through the middle of the week.

Outages Wednesday, however, didn't come to fruition, despite continued stress on the grid.

"There is still extreme stress on the system," Caisley said late Tuesday. "We still have very extreme temperatures, and we've got power plants all across the 17-state region that have been running flat out of their capacity for at least two (days), and sometimes longer time periods now.

"So many of the conditions that were present (Tuesday) morning to create the need to have temporary emergency power reductions are still in place."

He said Southwest Power Pool had indicated its system was most at risk of additional controlled outages between 8 p.m. Tuesday and early Wednesday.

But by Wednesday morning things appeared to be looking up.

Evergy tweeted early Wednesday that it wasn't asked to implement temporary power outages overnight but indicated such action remained "a strong possibility" through 11 a.m. that day.

Just before 11 a.m., Southwest Power Pool announced it made it through the morning's peak energy demand period, which hit around 9 a.m. A couple hours later, the power pool downgraded its energy emergency alert level, tweeting that "generation is currently sufficient to serve system-wide demand across the region and to fully satisfy operating reserve requirements."

But the company continued to urge homes and businesses in its region to conserve electricity.

Evergy has said ways to conserve electricity include turning thermostats a little cooler, avoiding the use of electric space heaters, closing blinds and shades to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows, turning off unnecessary lights and appliances, and delaying nonessential uses of energy.

The utility indicated it was working with its large commercial and industrial customers this week to reduce strain on the system, as well.