The widespread blast of Arctic cold put a strain on natural gas and electricity distribution across the eastern third of the United States last week as consumers cranked up their heat to counteract single-digit temperatures in many locations. Utilities as far south as Florida, where temperatures dipped to the lowest level in more than a decade, warned consumers to take precautions and conserve energy as delivery systems were tested and old records were broken for gas and power sendout.

Progress Energy Florida, (formerly known as Florida Power) which provides electricity and related services to more than 1.4 million customers in Florida, said Friday it was preparing for severe cold in its service territory through at least Saturday morning. Gas prices at the Florida citygate shot to $8/MMBtu on Thursday.

“While we expect to be able to handle the weather, we are preparing like it’s a major storm event. We’ll be on high alert and have made arrangements to mobilize the needed resources,” said Sam Spilman, Progress Energy Florida’s system storm coordinator.

With temperatures expected to dip as low as 15 degrees in parts of the company’s service territory, Progress said it would have additional line and service crews ready to ensure it is able to respond to any outages.

“We expect to see very high electricity use by our customers,” added Spilman. “Our power plants are up and running and in very good shape, and we have excess power in reserve. Just in case, we’ve made arrangements to purchase power from neighboring utilities.”

Its customers on Friday used approximately 10,076 MWh of electricity at peak demand, which occurred between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. The record use eclipsed the old record of 9,045 MWh set on Jan. 9, 2002.

Neighboring utility Florida Power & Light Co. (FP&L) on Thursday urged customers to use electricity wisely and safely during the cold weather forecast through Saturday morning. The company said that as Florida residents gear up to stay warm in the coldest weather affecting the area since December of 1989, FP&L is prepared with “adequate generating power” to supply the needs of customers, barring unexpected problems with power plant operations.

FP&L, which supplies power to almost eight million Floridians, said that through the weekend it will have additional crews on standby to respond to any weather-related outages, and power plants will be fully staffed.

The Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC), which works with the four major Florida utilities (FP&L, Progress Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power) to provide reliable power to Florida residents, said there should be reliable power through the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, the FRCC issued an advisory on the generating capacity situation in Peninsula Florida, citing the extremely cold weather and record-breaking electricity use by Floridians. The FRCC said that Florida’s utilities set records Friday morning for high electricity use. With continuing cold weather forecast for Friday night and Saturday morning, many of the state’s utilities also anticipate using their individual voluntary load management programs, as needed, to meet customer demand.

“If there are unanticipated problems statewide, it is possible that FP&L customers could be inconvenienced if FP&L is required to use pre-arranged energy management programs,” FP&L said. “If there is an unanticipated problem with FP&L operations, the company would first initiate ‘On Call’ and then if necessary may rotate delivery of power to groups of customers.”

The On Call program is a pre-arranged volunteer program, in which participants select appliances to be turned off for 15-minute intervals and in turn receive a monthly credit on their bill. FP&L said it does not believe this procedure will be necessary, but if implemented, customers would experience brief 20-minute interruptions of power.

Florida Power & Light Co. (FP&L) urged all customers to reduce their consumption of electricity through Saturday. The company said that it met higher than expected customer power needs on Friday morning without a problem.

The utility said that it produced a record peak of 20,190 MW on Friday morning and expected demand to be higher on Saturday morning because of the cooling effect on Florida homes, which are built to remain cool in warm weather. The record set on Friday morning is about 1,000 MW more than the previous record set last August.

Texas also set a new power record according to the The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT). The Council announced that early indications are that the state set a new winter peak record in the ERCOT region on Jan. 24, as Texans used 44,732 MW of power. The new unofficial record exceeds the previous record of 44,641 MW set on December 12, 2000.

“The ERCOT Region has set an unofficial new Winter Peak,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT director of System Operations. “We sailed smoothly through the new peak with no significant operational issues, and we expect to be able to meet even colder conditions, should temperatures dip lower in the weeks ahead.”

Meanwhile, arctic conditions across the Tennessee Valley also pushed the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) electric power demand to an all-time record on Friday, unseating the last record, which was set on Thursday. The peak demand reached 29,866 MW at 8 a.m. EST Friday when temperatures across the Valley averaged 6 degrees.

TVA and local power distributors said they took in-house conservation measures Thursday by turning back thermostats in their facilities and taking other measures to reduce energy consumption. In addition, demand for electrical power was further reduced by large industrial customers that agreed to cut power usage when needed.

TVA said that the previous all-time record for highest power usage was 29,344 MW, which was set on Aug. 17, 2000, when summer temperatures reached 99 degrees. This is the first time in several years that the winter peak exceeded the summer peak, TVA noted.

Virginia was also part of the arctic freeze as Dominion Energy, the electric generating unit of Dominion, supplied a winter record one-hour amount of power Thursday evening. The company’s mix of power stations generated an unofficial 16,133 MW of electricity Thursday between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Although the amount of electricity still must be verified, the company said that there is little doubt Dominion surpassed the previous wintertime peak of 15,072 MW generated on Jan. 28, 2000.

“While we haven’t had a cold spell like this for several years, Dominion is ready to keep homes warm and lights on. We have adequate supplies of electricity as we move further into the winter months,” said Thomas F. Farrell, II, president and chief executive officer at Dominion.

In Pennsylvania, PPL Electric Utilities reported that 1.3 million customers in eastern and central Pennsylvania teamed to set a new electricity-use record. The company reported that at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, customers used 7,096 MW of electricity, breaking the old record of 6,928 MW set on Jan. 17, 2000.

“When our customers need electricity, they can count on us to provide reliable electric delivery service,” said Michael E. Bray, president of PPL Electric Utilities. “We operate and maintain our power lines and equipment for the record level of usage that comes with this type of weather.”

Bray added that the cold has not had a “significant effect” on power plant operations in the region, meaning PPL Electric Utilities customers in 29 Pennsylvania counties also have plenty of electricity available to meet their needs during the cold spell.

Meanwhile in the Northeast, the situation was not much better with gas price highs at $22/MMBtu on Wednesday and near $15 on Thursday. The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) announced all-time winter peak electric loads of 24,438 MW on Jan. 22 and 24,453 MW on Jan. 23. The previous winter peak was set on Dec. 9, 2002, when the load hit 23,943 MW, NYISO reported.

KeySpan spokeswoman Diana Parisi said her company’s New York City facilities, located in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, hit a natural gas demand all-time high of 1,081,153 Dth on Wednesday, surpassing the previous record of 1,079,176 Dth set on Jan. 17, 2000. Then again on Friday, KeySpan reported that it had broken its now day old record with customers consuming a record 1,085,611 Dth of gas.

KeySpan Energy Delivery operates several utilities that provide gas service to 2.5 million customers in the three New York City boroughs, in Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, and in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

KeySpan also topped a record in its Long Island gas operations twice in the past week. The company said the cold spell this week has prompted Long Island customers to consume approximately 45% more natural gas than is normally used during this time of year. Parisi said KeySpan “usually” requires about 450,000 Dth/d for its customers on Long Island, but on Jan. 22, the company reported that Long Island it hit an all-time record for gas demand of 650,000 Dth, which surpassed the previous record of 641,000 Dth set on Jan. 17, 2000. On Friday, the company broke the record again with customers consuming 667,930 Dth.

Despite the record days in the company’s service areas, Parisi said KeySpan “had no problems” rising to the occasion and supplying the necessary gas. “Our system is in good shape and we have no supply problems,” Parisi said.

Although not setting any gas demand records yet, Consolidated Edison Co. of New York (ConEd) said it has curtailed its 255 interruptible customers twice already during the freeze, once from Jan. 17 to Jan. 19 and then again on Jan. 21, which is still ongoing. The utility provides electric, gas and steam service to more than three million customers in New York City and Westchester County, NY.

“We haven’t seen any record gas sendout or throughput nor have we seen any consumption records so far,” said ConEd spokesman Joe Petta. He added that ConEd’s customer usage record of 936,000 Dth as well as its total throughput record of 1.2 million Dth — both set on Jan. 17, 2000 — are still intact.

However, ConEd’s electricity business has been booming over the last week. “On the electric side we have seen some peak winter usage,” Petta said. On Wednesday, the company hit a peak winter demand record of 8,368 MW, surpassing a Dec. 11, 2002 record of 8,344 MW. In addition, Petta said the company also had a record winter sendout of 170,191 MWh on Wednesday, beating out the mark set on Jan. 21, 2002 of 168,575 MWh. “Clearly the electric usage is way up,” he said.

As the big freeze continues, Petta said that ConEd has adequate supply contracts and is not anticipating any supply problems for either gas or electric customers.

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