Power companies wrestle with how best to address Oklahoma’s energy crisis through winter storm

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As residents continue to express frustration over the power issues and “controlled interruptions,” or rolling blackouts, the power grid operators, Southwest Power Pool, said they warned their power distributors to expect stress on the system last week. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission disagreed over a decision to allow utilities to divert energy from commercial users to residents.

On Tuesday afternoon, SPP’s COO Lanny Nickell said that on Tuesday, Feb. 9, they issued a declaration of conservative operations.

“Conservative operations, that’s our way to signal to our generator and transmission operators that conditions are going to exist that could stress the system and so we and they should begin to operate the system more conservatively,” Nickell said in an online press conference.

On Sunday, the company issued an energy emergency alert at level one. Then, later that day, issued the energy emergency alert level two for the first time in its history, and asked energy distributors to encourage customers to begin conserving energy.

That’s when OG&E sent out a request to its customers to conserve energy individually.

SPP officials said that while their grid operators decide when controlled interruptions are needed, it’s up to the power distributing companies to decide where those occur locally.

“Energy’s moving almost at the speed of light and these decisions are made as the decision needs to be made based on the guidelines Lanny referenced,” said SPP’s senior vice president of government affairs and public relations, Mike Ross. “So it’s not like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to have to reduce power an hour from now or 10 hours from now,’ it’s literally a decision that is made within minutes if not seconds. So we get the message out as quick as we can.”

SPP officials said the controlled interruptions will still be a risk through Wednesday, but that hopefully by Friday, or even as early as Thursday, the issues will be resolved.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s commissioners grappled with a decision on whether to not issue an emergency order that would give utility companies or other service providers the power to decide to divert energy from its commercial consumers to residential consumers.

Brandy Wreath, the OCC director of the public utility division, brought forward an application for the decision. He said it would essentially direct utilities to prioritize residents’ health, lives and safety over commercial interests when reasonable.

Commissioners J. Todd Hiett, Bob Anthony and Dana Murphy raised questions about who this would harm, and possible unintended consequences, like turning off a company’s power and damaging its equipment in the process.

Wreath did his best to answer those questions, but stressed that all other options have been exhausted. He said the bottom line is this is a dire situation that can result in people not surviving the storm.

“This is a real life and death situation. Those things have been exhausted and all demand side management and curtailment was called on in the process and many customers did it voluntarily,” Wreath said. “What we’re down to now are the potential holdouts who want to maintain equipment who have known and have been contacted for days and have not made the decision to ramp down to zero, and that may be necessary to prevent loss of life and that’s really what we’re talking about.”

Ultimately, the verbiage in the order was reworded and Hiett and Murphy voted for it. Anthony did not approve the order, saying he did not think it was necessary and that companies would do what’s best for everyone on their own.

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