Madison extends energy alert

THE TEMPERATURE READOUT for the display at Great Western Bank in downtown Madison showed minus 16 degrees as the temperature at late Sunday morning. Weather forecasters are warning individuals about the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite due to extreme cold temperatures. Below-zero temperatures are expected to last in the Madison area until Wednesday.

Madison utility officials have extended a 24-hour energy alert that started on Monday morning for another day. The request for local electric-utility customers to cut down their power use will now last until 6 a.m. on Wednesday.

The staff in the Madison Electric Department announced on Sunday that they would declare an energy alert in Madison to last from Monday morning into Tuesday morning due to persistent subzero temperatures. The extension to the energy alert was announced late Monday morning.

Madison officials are asking the city's electric customers to keep their use of electricity to a minimum to avoid peak-use charges for additional power consumed during the current stretch of bitterly-cold winter weather.

According to Brad Lawrence, Madison's utility director, the energy alert was needed because city officials believed electricity demand would grow higher when industrial utility customers started running their plants on Monday.

"In addition to the retail and residential that we had over the weekend, we expect our industrial customers to add to the electrical load at the start of this work week," Lawrence said.

The department's announcement stated, "Due to the persistent cold weather forecast for Monday, an energy alert is being declared for the city of Madison. City consumers are encouraged to voluntarily conserve or limit energy usage."

Utility officials said the voluntary reduction in electricity use would "...assist in controlling the peak demand on the power system." They asked that utility customers turn off any unnecessary lights and/or electric space heaters.

As an example, Lawrence said the activation of one residential water heater during a peak-demand period could create a heavy bill for the city utility.

"If one person has their water heater come on when we're at our peak, that'll easily cost us about $125," Lawrence said.

He added that under its current billing system, Madison's electric utility would only recover pennies on the dollar. The municipal utility can only charge the customer about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for running a residential water heater.

In the announcement, city officials also asked utility customers to delay any major appliance usage, such as dryers, washers and dishwashers, during the energy alert.

For any individuals who could experience significant personal difficulties, such as health problems, due to excessive energy cutbacks, the utility staff encouraged those persons to "...put personal safety ahead of any requests associated with this alert during these unseasonably cold days."

According to Lawrence, Madison's electricity-generating plant, a 10-megawatt facility, has continued operating since the early-morning hours of Feb. 13 at the request of Basin Electric Power Cooperative. The Bismarck, N.D.,-based power cooperative has assisted Madison with financing that built the city's emergency-generation plant, and Basin Electric has a contract to use the 10-MW facility as a peak power plant when needed.

"The generation plant has been running since Saturday morning at 2 a.m.," Lawrence said. "We thought that we might shut it down on Saturday evening, but Basin Electric contacted us and said, `Keep it running'."

"We have been getting our orders every day to keep the generation plant running."

Lawrence said his current calculations have Basin Electric asking the Madison plant to remain in operation until midnight on Tuesday or possibly midday on Wednesday. He added that he had also learned that Basin Electric has asked Fort Pierre officials to operate their 6-MW peak generation plant to meet increased electricity demands.

Lawrence said Basin Electric officials are running their power plants at capacity in response to a request from the Southwest Power Pool, a regional power transmission organization. He added the the entire SPP footprint is affected by the demand for more electricity.

"Despite our problems with the cold, we could consider ourselves lucky," Lawrence said. "In Texas, they are currently having rolling blackouts to deal with the electricity demands."