TVA Engineers Sweat As Arctic Air Pushes Limits Of Power Grid

The arctic blast forced TVA to get some of its largest customers to curtail power usage by a combined 1,000 megawatts. Credit: TVA

The arctic blast forced TVA to get some of its largest customers to curtail power usage by a combined 1,000 megawatts. Pictured is TVA’s Widows Creek coal-fired plant. Credit: TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority broke a record during the cold snap – more power used than on any 24-hour period in the utility’s history. It took more than 700,000 megawatt hours to keep homes and businesses warm, breaking a record last set in January 2010.

When energy use approaches max capacity for TVA’s seven-state region, engineers gather in a control room in Chattanooga full of monitors and alarms.

“You can see everything coming online and going offline,” says spokesman Scott Brooks. “And yeah, there were some raw nerves down there on Tuesday.”

Brooks says it’s always a balance to produce just the right amount of power that’s needed. And this week, it has taken everything TVA’s got.

Several manufacturing plants and at least one university – Murray State – were required to back off their power usage. They had agreed to ahead of time in exchange for discounted rates.

“We called in those contracts Monday night and we were able to save 1,000 megawatts across the system,” Brooks says. “So had we not had those interrupt-able contracts, we would have set a [peak] record on Tuesday.”

TVA’s all-time record for winter demand at a single point in time was set on Jan. 16, 2009. More than 32,572 megawatts were needed when temperatures across the service area averaged 9 degrees. This cold snap did result in lower temperatures. The average across the TVA region hit 4 degrees Tuesday morning.

In other parts of the south, Duke Energy customers also set all-time records for winter power use, including a peak in the Carolinas around 8 am Tuesday.

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.