Power usage spikes during arctic blast

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By: Charles Roop | WCTV Eyewitness News
January 4, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Locally, our area has been in a winter wonderland. With sleet and snow falling in parts of our area, as well as lows dropping into the 20s, the arctic blast has been causing us to do something else: Use more electricity.

Tallahassee City Utilities has been monitoring the usage, and planning for these spikes to the grid in the long and short term.

"[This is] so that we're prepared in the long run to meet the demand of our customers," General Manager for City of Tallahassee Electric Rob McGarrah said.

Through a ten-year plan, the city has been forecasting instantaneous demand, and then adding 17 percent as a reserve margin to determine needs down the road.

In the short term, they perform maintenance to their generation system in the spring and fall - when the weather isn't as extreme.

"Because our two heavy load times are in the winter - like this - and then the summer loads," MaGarrah said.

But as the cold weather approaches, they make sure the plant can handle the weather itself.

"We go through some winterization at the power plants because that's the primary area we got to prepare for [...] to make sure the generating units are ready to withstand the temperatures that we had this week," he said.

The Arvah B. Hopkins power facility on the west side of Tallahassee generates about 70 percent of the city's electricity. It's run primarily by natural gas, but can run diesel gas if supply issues arise. The plant either burns fuel through a boiler that runs steam turbines, or combusts the gas through turbines that are like jet engines.

"We take the waste heat off of it to make steam to drive a steam turbine," McGarrah said. "That's the most efficient way that we generate electricity."

McGarrah said that there have been no issues with keeping up with the demand.

Customer's usage of power between the winter peak hours between 8 am and 9 am on Wednesday has been greater than a year ago, according to McGarrah. Customers used nearly 545 MW during that peak hour - much more than the nearly 300 MW consumed on Jan. 3, 2017. A year ago, the high was 80 degrees with the morning low of 57 - much warmer than average. This Jan. 3, the high was 47 and the low was 24.

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