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Utility companies warn of potential outages as cold weather continues

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun
Some Evergy customers in Kansas and Missouri have experienced power outages this week amid increased demand during recent cold weather.

Note: After this article was initially posted online Kansas Gas Service issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon directing its large customers to reduce their gas usage:

With extreme cold weather producing historic lows and increased demand, Kansas Gas Service has directed large customers to reduce their usage to ‘plant protection mode’ (lowest possible usage that will keep pipes from freezing and avoid damage to equipment) to prevent outages in Kansas.

“We are planning for potential outages and putting measures in place to keep gas service to our customers and critical facilities,” said Sean Postlethwait, vice president of operations for Kansas Gas Service.“Our large commercial, industrial and transport customers play an important and pivotal role in helping the community avert a disruption in service.”

This curtailment does not apply to schools, hospitals, health care facilities, hotels or lodging facilities, grocery stores, universities, colleges, churches, public safety buildings, multi-family dwellings and apartments.

“Following our regulatory obligations under our curtailment plan, an initial critical step is to take measures to seek assistancefrom our large commercial and industrial and transport customers to help avoid disruptions,” said Postlethwait.

Customers are encouraged to visit KansasGasService.com/SevereColdfor any company severe weather updates.

Original article continues below:

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Extreme cold weather in recent days has prompted utility companies serving the Pittsburg area to issue warnings of potential outages. Although the order that prompted rolling blackouts throughout much of Kansas and Missouri was lifted Tuesday morning, many customers’ power still hadn’t come back on hours later. 

“Extreme frigid temperatures are affecting our region’s power supply, so the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) asked Evergy to implement controlled, temporary emergency electricity reductions to help avoid larger uncontrolled and extended power outages throughout the region,” Evergy said in a message on its website.  

Power outages should not last longer than 30 minutes to an hour, but there was still a possibility that they could because due to the extreme cold, “equipment may not operate as intended,” the company said. 

“We're resuming controlled, temporary emergency electricity reductions to avoid extended outages,” Evergy said on its website Tuesday morning. “If you experience an outage that lasts  longer than an hour, call 888-544-4852 for Missouri and Kansas Metro, or 800-544-4857 for Kansas Central customers.” 

So far, at least, rolling blackouts appear to have largely avoided Pittsburg. As of Tuesday morning, Evergy was reporting just three outages affecting less than five local customers. More than 100,000 customers were reportedly without power early Tuesday across the company’s broader coverage area.  

“We thank you for working with us this morning,” Evergy said in a tweet later Tuesday morning. “At 10:15, the SPP lifted the current order and intermittent outages have been suspended at this time. Power should be coming back online soon for those impacted. We thank you for conserving energy and ask that you continue to do so.” 

Three hours later, though, Evergy was still reporting more than 20,000 customers without power, some of whom were continuing to complain of extended outages on social media. Shortly before 6:30 a.m. Tuesday there was reportedly an outage affecting 125 customers in a rural area northeast of Arma, and Evergy was still reporting that it was “re-evaluating situation” early Tuesday afternoon. 

“At this time, Evergy is resuming implementing controlled, temporary emergency electricity reductions,” the company’s website still said early Tuesday afternoon. “Due to high traffic, we're experiencing temporary website issues. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your understanding.” 

Kansas Gas Service has similarly been issuing statements to reassure customers amid outages brought on by the recent severe cold weather. 

“As of this morning, our suppliers of natural gas are experiencing freezing gas wells due to the duration of the extreme cold. This is impacting the amount of gas they are able to provide to us,” the gas company said in a message posted on its website Monday evening

“We want to make the public aware that, as a result, we could see widespread outages across our service territory. This means customers could lose gas service to their homes and businesses.” 

Kansas Gas Service urged customers to conserve as much gas as possible to minimize the impact of recent increased demand on their neighbors. 

“We are asking everyone to please reduce your natural gas usage in your home or business and use as little as possible until further notice,” the company said. “If we all do our part, it can help reduce the number of people who could lose their natural gas service in these extremely cold conditions. We need your help to keep our community safe and warm.” 

The National Weather Service on Tuesday was forecasting more snow possible during the week and freezing temperatures to continue through Friday in Pittsburg. 

Although it is not affected by orders from the Southwest Power Pool, another utility that local residents should not forget about during the cold weather is their water service. 

To prevent frozen pipes, the City of Pittsburg noted in a recent press release, open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing, let cold water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes, keep your thermostat set to the same temperature both day and night, and if leaving your home for an extended period, keep the heat on and set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees. 

If pipes freeze, the city advised, keep your faucet open as you treat the frozen pipe. Running water through the pipe will help melt the ice. Apply heat to the section of pipe using a heating pad or towels soaked in hot water. If using an electric hair dryer or portable space heater to thaw pipes, keep away from flammable materials and never leave space heaters unattended. Never use an open flame device (blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove) to thaw frozen pipes. If you are unable to thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.