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Rolling Blackouts Started With No Notice, Over Now

February 15, 2021 - 13:26
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UPDATE: 10:49 a.m. Tuesday Blackouts over for now.

UPDATE: 8:46 a.m. Tuesday Rolling blackouts started with no notice.

UPDATE: 3:06 p.m. Monday to include news release issued by Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which feeds Cimarron Electric customers.

UPDATE: 1:28 P.M. Monday: Cimarron Electric CEO Mark Snowden just informed the Times & Free Press that the Southwest Power Pool has found more power across their footprint and has cancelled the rolling black outs.

Rolling blackouts started just before 7 a.m. Tuesday morning with no notice to anyone, including Cimarron Electric Cooperative management. Snowden reported at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday that the blackouts were over for the day. 

The first notice Cimarron received was when its members southeast of Kingfisher and in Cashion began reporting outages.

With no notice to electrical providers, the Southwest Power Pool raised its Emergency Energy Alert Status back up to Levl 3, after dropping to Level 2 Tuesday afternoon when power supplies weren't as critical. Rolling blackouts were triggered, beginning with shutoffs on the east circuit of the Cashion substation and the south circuit of the East Kingfisher substation.

"We were not notified ahead of time that they were going to level 3 or that they were turning off our circuits. We are told from WFEC to expect our circuits to be off for around 1 hour at a time as they perform these rolling black outs today," Cimarron said in a Facebook post.

Power had been restored at the first two substations before 8 a.m. Members reported a total outage of about an hour and a half. Rolling blackouts affected a total of eight of Cimarron's 20 substations before they were canceled for the day, Snowden said. At 10:50 a.m., Snowden notified the Times & Free Press that SPP had canceled the blackouts for now.

Snowden said he will not be notified in advance of which local circuits will be shut off or a schedule of rolling outages.

"I have asked for that and the answer is no. What I'm learning is SPP is monitoring the deficiences in the power grid across 14 states and looking at the load in five minute intervals. Based on what they are seeing, they are turning off and on circuits to keep the power flowin gand avoiding a total grid shut down," Snowden said Tuesday morning. "Sounds like SPP sees it and has to react to the live data quickly and doesn't have time to contact every generation company in every state. Doing that would likely shut the grid down as time is of the essence."

City Manager Dave Slezickey said he also was notified by the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority that blackouts have begun. He received an email saying OMPA staff will be contacting cities to let them know if they will be involved in the blackouts. "OMPA staff will try to give you as much notice as we possibly can, but we are not getting much notice on when these curtailments will happen from the transmission operators," the email read.

According to the OMPA email, the city will have a little more control over what circuits are affected than Cimarron Electric has been given. If blackouts are required by the city, OMPA staff will call and recommend circuits that don't have critical infrastructure on them, such as nursing homes, police and fire departments, the hospital, the water treatment plant, etc., "However, you know your city's system best so if there are circuits you are aware of that you could quickly shed load from, we will ask that you do so."

According to the OMPA email, city rolling blackouts, if they occur, could last up to two hours. OG&E was providing the same information to its customers. Slezickey said as of 8:50 a.m. Tuesday he had not received requests for rolling blackouts in Kingfisher. 

Rolling blackouts were a possibiity Monday when an Emergency Energy Alert Level 3 was issued shortly after 11 a.m. across the Southwest Power Pool, which includes most of Oklahoma, until more power was found across the SPP footprint to forestall the need Monday. (See map). An EEA3 signals that SPP is operating with reserves below the required minimum and may mean that SPP directs power suppliers to curtail energy use through rolling blackouts.

Western Farmers Electric Coop issued the following statement shortly after 2:45 p.m. Monday:

"Shortly after noon today, after exhausting usage of available reserve energy, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) subsequently directed its member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of service effective immediately to prevent further, more widespread and uncontrolled outages. This action was taken after an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 3 had been declared.

"However, following only a short term of load interruption across the SPP footprint, the call for service interruption was cancelled by SPP, with the Energy Emergency Alert returning to Level 2. SPP has now returned to serving all of its load, without utilizing reserves.


"Everything has returned to normal for Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) and the transmission system is in good shape. However, a heightened awareness of weather conditions and load should still be observed, as the SPP system is still operating in adverse weather conditions across a 14-state area."


The return to EEA 3 happened without warning after temperatures dipped to their lowest overnight Tuesday. Residents woke up to actual temperatures of minus 12 right before the first round of blackouts began. 

Both wind and solar electrical generation are unavailable under current weather conditions and subzero wind chills also are affecting natural gas production and transportation.

Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which serves Cimarron Electric, reported that natural gas purchased for electrical generation through  Monday was 100 times higher than the normal cost. The Southwest Power Pool declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 at 10 a.m. Monday. That signals that SPP is operating with reserves below the required minimum and  for a time meant that SPP could direct power suppliers to curtail energy use through controlled interruptions of service (rolling power blackouts).

"We’ve been generating the past four days to put power on the grid, running on diesel only because no natural gas is available,” Slezickey said. “I’m not sure the last time that running diesel was cheaper than natural gas.”

Slezickey said the city’s power plant is committed to putting electricity into the OMPA system and he’s not sure whether any will be available to help power the city to avert rolling blackouts.

Through our contracts and agreements with OMPA, they control when we run, and if our assets are needed in the market, then we may not have them available for local needs,” he said.

The other side is if they need 2.5 megawatts, we still have five available to use locally, but that still wouldn’t cover our full load, so we would have to schedule outages through circuits.”

Both Snowden and Slezickey said they will give customers as much notice as possible of ongoing blackouts, but so far, Western Farmer and OMPA aren't promising much notice to utility providers. All parties are at the mercy of decisions made by the Southwest Power Pool in order to avert total grid shutdown.

We’ll update this story as it develops.