Duke Energy ends temporary power outages across NC

Overwhelming demand for heat during the region’s arctic plunge forced Duke Energy to roll out controlled blackouts of 15 to 30 minutes across North Carolina Saturday on Christmas Eve.

A number of surprised and angry customers took to social media to vent about the rare and surprising action.

The Charlotte-based utility stopped the rolling outages at about 11:30 am Saturday, spokesman Bill Norton said. Power came back up to about 10,000 customers at a time.

On Saturday afternoon, Duke Energy was asking customers to reduce energy use for the next 24 hours as extreme temperatures drove unusually high energy demand across the Carolinas.

At one point Saturday morning, about 100,000 customers had no power in the Charlotte region. By 7 am Sunday, power had been restored to most of the area, with a Duke Energy outage map showing fewer than 1,000 customers without power in Mecklenburg County.

No decision has been made yet on whether Duke Energy will need to deploy controlled outages on Sunday, according to Norton.

“I don’t recall a situation in recent memory” that Duke Energy needed to implement controlled blackouts, Norton said.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Fire Department said it was dealing with a high volume of calls due to frozen pipes and water issues. It asked people to call 911 for emergencies only.

Dangerous cold and wind chills are expected across the western Carolinas on Christmas Eve, according to the National Weather Service. National Weather Service map

Protecting the power grid

A number of factors led to the controlled outages.

Demand for energy in the face of very cold temperatures was higher than forecast, Norton said. Controlled outages were implemented as temperatures sat at 10 degrees Saturday, with wind chills of minus 4.

A few generating units also were experiencing problems around North Carolina, Norton said. And neighboring power companies had their own needs as well.

“The company is implementing load shedding steps that include interruptions in service,” Duke Energy said in a news release about the outages. “This is necessary to extend available power generation and help maintain operations until additional power is available. These outages are temporary and rotated among customers and will continue until additional electricity is available and normal operation of the power grid resumes.”

At about 10:30 am, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement, saying he had spoken with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good Saturday “to offer assistance and to express urgency about the need to restore power quickly in this extreme cold while keeping customers accurately informed.”

Charlotte weather forecast

The cold front has resulted in North Carolina seeing its coldest Christmas Eve since 1983, when some communities woke up to 8 degrees, forecasters say.

Temperatures at freezing or below are expected through Wednesday of this week, the National Weather Service reports.

The high on Christmas will be around 37 degrees. Meanwhile, night time lows in Charlotte will be 14 degrees on Christmas Eve, 18 on Christmas and 25 degrees on Monday, forecasters say.

Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress the “load shedding” is necessary to “maintain operations until additional power is available.”

Social media backlash to controlled outages

News that Duke Energy was adopting controlled blackouts received immediate push back on social media, with many noting the weather was a threat to safety.

Others pointed out the power giant should have anticipated the shortage, given the cold front was forecast a week ago. More than just cold, the front was accompanied by dangerous wind chills and gusts strong enough to down trees and power lines.

“You did what? It’s 9 degrees outside and Christmas Eve. I pay my bill. This is disgusting,” one man posted on Twitter.

“Some communication that this was going to be happening would have been nice, especially after not having power all day yesterday either. … It’s dropped 10 degrees inside in an hour,” a woman wrote.

“This shouldn’t be allowed. You’re leaving families freezing. I bet the CEOs power never gets cut in these ‘energy grid saving outages,” another commenter said.

Conservation tips

In asking customers to conserve power, Duke Energy suggested that customers:

Select the lowest comfortable thermostat setting and bump it down several degrees whenever possible.

Avoid using large appliances with a three-pronged plug, such as dishwashers, ovens and dryers, during high-demand periods like early mornings.

Shift non-essential activities like laundry to late evening hours when power demand is lower.

Charge electric vehicles overnight.

And if you have an electric water heater, limit the use of hot water as much as possible.

Staff writer Ames Alexander contributed.

This story was originally published December 24, 2022 8:50 AM.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.


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