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Electricity, Gas Usage Expected To Spike Amid Cold Weather

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Officials with regional utilities said they were preparing for heavy demand on electricity and natural gas because of the arctic weather blowing into the state.

The bitter cold has blanketing Middle Tennessee with sub-freezing temperatures, and won't let up until Tuesday or Wednesday. Between now and then, heaters are going to be running non-stop to keep homes warm.

Most people only think about outages when the weather gets too hot or too cold, but officials with the Nashville Electric Service said they were more worried about avoiding power outages and keeping the lights on. If the power goes out, thousands of people could be stuck in the cold.

Leon Tunstall and his wife woke up Monday morning and realized their electricity made it through the night, but not much further. By the morning, their power was out.

"When I got up the house was already getting cold because it's so cold outside," said Tunstall.

Luckily, they were prepared for the winter blast with a generator. It was only a couple hours before crews were able to restore power.

Officials said when the temperatures are so cold furnaces don't shut down, meaning potential for breakdowns and system failures.

"People's heat is not shutting off. It's running continuously. So there's just a constant strain on the system," said Laurie Parker, spokesperson for NES.

Parker said workers were constantly monitoring the grid to make sure the increased usage didn't cause problems.

Peak use Monday morning was 2300 MegaWatts – almost a winter record.

"It's possible we could hit something tomorrow, but again we still are able supply the need that's in the area," said Parker.

Officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority said they were also monitoring the system. Their reach of customers included nearly all of Tennessee and parts of six neighboring states.

They expected demand for the region to reach 32,000 megawatts on Tuesday, close to the 32,572 megawatt winter record set in January 2009 when temperatures in Tennessee reached 9 degrees.

The weather forecast for most of the Volunteer State has been for single-digit temperatures through the night, with wind chills as low as 15 to 18 degrees below zero as the air mass continued to cross the state.

The TVA has suspended all non-essential maintenance work to minimize the risk of power interruptions. Crews have been monitoring the bulk electric system. Officials said it was secure and stable, despite the increased demand.

"TVA has been monitoring and carefully preparing for this blast of potentially record-cold weather since last week," said Chip Pardee, TVA's Chief Operating Officer. "We have taken proactive measures so the system remains robust and reliable for our customers and power users across the Valley."

As for customers, staying warm around the clock will eventually mean having to pay a hefty bill.

"I figure they're going to be what they're going to be. I just have to be prepared to pay it," said Tunstall.

Officials with Piedmont Natural Gas said the additional energy used to heat homes and businesses would likely lead to increased costs for homeowners. They released a short list of tips that could keep the additional cost to stay warm from ballooning.

  • First, customers should set their thermostat lower by a few degrees. They said each degree lower would reduce the amount of energy used.

  • Second, they recommended using caulk or weather-strip to close any gaps or leaks in windows and doors. Rolled up towels can be used to insulate gaps at the bottom of doors.

  • Finally, check your air filters. Dirty filters reduce a furnace's ability to operate efficiently and may increase the system's energy consumption.

Piedmont's vice president of customer service, Ranelle Warfield, said some of the suggestions cost little to nothing to implement. Other ideas cost more, but led to overall savings.

"Investing in a programmable thermostat or purchasing higher efficiency natural gas equipment and appliances may cost a bit more up front but will save the customer both energy and money over the life of the equipment," said Warfield.

It was also recommended that homes and structures have adequate insulation.

Officials from several utilities said they were confident they could handle the increased demand. 

Anyone needing assistance in Davidson County can call Metro's non-emergency line at 615-862-8600. 

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