BILLINGS — Even mighty Texas, the energy powerhouse of America, is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature and the consumption of power throughout the nation’s midsection during an unprecedented cold snap is causing rolling blackouts as far north as Eastern Montana.
Two Montana electric cooperatives, NorVal and McCone, both had brief rolling blackouts Tuesday related to the southern winter storms, which affected hundreds of customers.
NorVal Electric Co-op serves about 1,925 customers in the Opheim-Glasgow area, while McCone Electric's service area includes 14,400 square miles stretching from Miles City to Glendive to Wolf Point, then west to Cat Creek.
Part of the reason for rolling blackouts in eastern Montana and western North Dakota is their association with the vast electric power grid operated by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).
The SPP, based in Little Rock, Ark., is a regional transmission corporation responsible for managing the electric grid across 17 states. The SPP grid runs from Montana to Texas and all the states in the system are affected.
The power outage impact has been contained to a few rural cooperatives in the eastern edge of Montana. The largest co-op near Billings, Yellowstone Valley Electric, did not suffer any power outages or blackouts.
“Yellowstone Valley Electric is in good shape,” said YVE General Manager Brandon Wittman. “We have ample power supply, and I don’t foresee any problems.”
NorthWestern Energy and Montana Dakota Utilities are experiencing high demand but are not reporting any supply problems.
In Texas, the governor called out the National Guard to help. In Kansas, the governor asked residents to do all they could to conserve power. In Kentucky, state officials said people need to be cautious as more frigid weather is coming.
The deep freeze this week is causing power demand to skyrocket. At the same time, natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities in Texas have been knocked offline by the low temperatures and have not been able to keep up with the demand.
Nearly 154 million people in the United States are under some sort of winter weather alert, according to the National Weather Service. Wind chill warnings or advisories are in effect for about 68 million people. Icy roads, power outages and dangerously low temperatures is making life miserable.
The cold air is so widespread that you could travel nearly 2,000 miles from the Rio Grande on the Mexican border to the St. Lawrence River on the Canadian border entirely in winter storm warnings or watches. The mercury dropped to 5° in Dallas, -6° in Oklahoma City and -32° in Kansas City, Missouri -- the coldest for those cities since 1989.
Snow fell in Brownsville, Texas, where measurable snow has occurred only twice on record since 1898.