As Greater Memphis ever so slowly warms up from the winter storm’s frigid temperatures, coping has meant dealing with rolling power blackouts that had ended by the time a conditions update was delivered at midday on Christmas Eve.
Calling the blackouts a “phenomenon,” Memphis Light, Gas and Water Chief Executive Officer Doug McGowen said 23,000 customers – out of 431,000 – were without power from the blackouts without about half of that set to be restored by what he called “manual breaker resets.”
The remaining downrange outages were to be addressed as soon as possible during the course of the day. (Update: By 7 p.m., less than 1,000 customers reportedly remained without power.)
“This is the first time in the history of TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and the first time in MLGW’S history that we have ever had to do load curtailment or rolling blackouts,” McGowen said. “The answer is yes. We have a plan for two and a half percent, five percent, 10 percent, all the way up to 100 percent curtailment, and we hope that we never have to get there.”
Over the course of the last two days, 226,000 customers were impacted by deliberate rolling blackouts.
TVA leadership, according to McGowen, “expects the probability to be very low” at least through Christmas Day “that we will again have to endure rolling blackouts.”
Customers still are encouraged to “conserve energy where and when we can. … If you can at all, delay those high-use items that use a lot of energy.”
McGowan detailed the issuing on Friday night of a boil-water advisory for several service areas in the northeast portion of MLGW’s service area and in the southeast section.
“Our water volumes are coming up, and though it may be a day or two before we can lift that boil water advisory, we will be testing the water once we get to the appropriate pressure and advising when we can lift that boil water advisory.”
While some service areas were suffering gas shortages, McGowan said, “Thankfully, our system is in very good condition and we’re able to meet all of our gas load demand.”
Chandell Ryan, Memphis’ chief operations officer, gave an update on available warming centers: the Hospitality Hub at 590 Washington Ave. (901-730-1736), and the Dave Wells Community Center at 915 Chelsea Avenue. Both will remain open until further notice, with Memphis Area Transit Authority Transportation available for those in need by calling the Office of Emergency Management at 297-1680.
With sanitation division services suspended on Friday, Ryan said, “crews will be working overtime over the next week to restore services. We expect that by (next) Saturday … we will have recaptured the solid waste that we were not able to serve on Friday. We are asking for the customers to leave your carts out at the curb so that we can collect them once we’re in your area.”
Motorists should be alert for out-of-service traffic lights, Ryan said, noting a dozen places. The Memphis Police Department’s inclement weather policy for crashes remains in effect, meaning drivers should exchange information when involved in minor collisions with no injuries or wrecker service needed and report the accidents within 48 hours.
Ryan said MATA will continue to operate on a Sunday service schedule – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Monday (Dec. 26).
Public Works Director Robert Connect said a survey of major roadways showed they “are in much better condition. Side streets will continue to be problematic. Probably those conditions with side streets will not improve until at least Tuesday or Wednesday when conditions are more favorable.”
Greg Waymon with the City of Memphis Office of Emergency Management, a bureau within the Memphis Fire Department, explained how a power outage on Friday forced the move to a backup plan to bus people from a warming center at Hickory Hill Community Center to the Dave Wells location.
“We’re greatly appreciative of those … workers across all divisions of city government that have volunteered … time,” he said.
“If you know someone in need, feel free to bring ’em to one of those centers” or call for transportation help, he said. “It’s very important as these temperatures continue through the weekend. We will not climb above freezing before Monday. …
“So, we’ll start to see some of this thawing, hopefully. But that is the time to make sure you check the water pipes and other things that may thaw out and cause problems.”
McGowen acknowledged that there was “confusion, anger, and frustration about the changing plans” regarding the rolling blackouts,” which at points were expanded to encompass a broader area.
“It is difficult to make a forecast when you have little notice about initiating the plan and even less notice about changing the plan to a larger outage,” he said. “It is not obviously an optimum condition, but that’s how things unfolded.
“Rolling blackouts are certainly not something that anyone wants to do, but I wanna let folks know that everyone shares equally in the opportunity when that happens.”
Memphis still remains under a seven-day state of emergency declared by Mayor Jim Strickland.