Written on July 18, 2011 – 7:49 pm | by Cameron Hussey
Photo Showcase: Heat Wave****
Despite soaring temperatures, rising electrical demand across the nation and flooding that has closed a major Nebraska power plant, plenty of electricity remains available to keep homes and businesses cool, regional utilities said Tuesday.
“We believe we are in good shape for the rest of the summer,” said Mike Jones, spokesman for the Omaha Public Power District.
Jones said OPPD has lined up sufficient supplies of outside electricity, even though Missouri River floodwaters are keeping its Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station off line. That plant typically generates about 25 percent of OPPD’s electricity.
With the worst of the heat and humidity centered, so far, in eastern Nebraska, Iowa and southern Minnesota, utilities in Iowa and Minnesota set records for electrical use on Monday.
Spokeswoman Ann Thelen said MidAmerican Energy Co. saw demand reach about 4,700 megawatts of electricity Monday in Iowa, well above the previous record of 4,515 megawatts set on July 14, 2010.
OPPD and the Nebraska Public Power District said usage was up significantly, but neither set an overall record Monday. NPPD did set a record for irrigation-related demand, said spokesman Mark Becker.
“The system is operating fine, we’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
All three major regional utilities MidAmerican, NPPD and OPPD said they had plenty of power. None called for a general curtailment of power use.
The extraordinary humidity accompanying this heat wave has produced some jaw-dropping heat indexes: 128 in central Iowa on Monday and Tuesday and as high as to 114 degrees in the Omaha.
MDA EarthSat Weather, a firm that forecasts energy usage, said the month of July and this week in particular will most likely set national records for air-conditioning-related electrical use.
Travis Hartman, energy weather manager at the firm, said the broad geographic span and timing of this heat wave make it extraordinary.
It’s already the part of summer when temperatures average their highest, so any conditions warmer than normal will be noticeably uncomfortable. Additionally, most of the U.S. east of the Rockies is affected.
“It’s pretty impressive,” he said.
OPPD’s Jones said that after projections of prolonged Missouri River flooding, the utility signed power contracts for June, July and August, replacing much of what the Fort Calhoun reactor would have generated. The nuclear plant will probably remain off line at least into August.
The July contracts total 300 megawatts of electricity, enough to replace 60 percent of Fort Calhoun’s net generation capacity, he said.
Jones said it’s too early to say how the current heat wave and loss of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station might affect rates paid by consumers. The utility has said it will have a better idea of any impact on rates in August.
On Monday, OPPD purchased 16 percent of the power that it needed but did not fire up the natural-gas plants it holds in reserve to meet peak demand.
Jones said OPPD paid an average of $36 per megawatt hour of electricity Monday, with its most costly megawatt hour totaling $73. By comparison, the utility’s nuclear plant averages about $34 a megawatt hour to operate.
Besides boosting demand for power, hot weather like this can cause outages by stressing electrical equipment. That may have happened in South Omaha on Monday afternoon, when 870 OPPD customers lost power for almost two hours. A smaller heat-related outage also occurred Monday near Fremont.
Typically, transformers and underground cables are the types of equipment most affected by hot weather. Monday’s Omaha outage was related to an underground cable that went bad, Jones said.
Equipment is designed to handle the heat, but that equipment like people, plants and animals needs a drop in nighttime temperatures to cool off. During this heat wave, nighttime temperatures have not been dropping to normal summertime levels.
OPPD has asked businesses that have a special curtailment-related rate to curtail use, Jones said.
MidAmerican Energy on Tuesday activated a program that reduces electrical use by select residential customers.
Thelen said participating customers agree to have equipment attached to air conditioners that cycles then on and off in 15-minute increments on peak demand days. In exchange, customers get an annual $30 to $40 rebate. Tuesday was the fifth day the program was activated this summer, she said.
The current heat wave is projected to ease briefly in the Midlands later this week as it moves farther east. Edwards said highs in Omaha on Thursday and Friday could be in the low to mid-90s, with rain or a thunderstorm possible Wednesday into Thursday.
The average high in Omaha at this time of year is 88 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
The long-term outlook calls for above-normal temperatures into August, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.
Photo Showcase: Heat Wave