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The stop lights at N. Road and Main streets during Tuesday's early morning power outage.

William F. West/The Daily Advance

The stop lights at N. Road and Main streets during Tuesday's early morning power outage.

Heavy demand leads to outages; low temps set new record

By William F. West

The Daily Advance

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Record-setting electricity demand caused by record-low temperatures was responsible for a systemwide power outage for several hours Tuesday morning that left approximately 12,000 Elizabeth City customers in the dark — and those without other forms of heat, in the cold.

The cause of the outage, which was reported at 5:20 a.m., apparently stemmed from a switch failure at the city’s primary connection point with Dominion Power, City Manager Rich Olson said. City electric crews weren’t able to fully restore power to all customers until 8:50 a.m.

The outage appeared to be a result of record-setting demand on the city’s electric system because of the extremely cold temperatures gripping the area.

The low of 13 degrees at 7 a.m. Tuesday set a new record for Elizabeth City, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record low on Jan. 7 was 15 degrees, set in 1959.

Weather Service officials said the forecast for Wednesday called for a low of 11 degrees, which would break the low of 16 degrees set the same day in 1968.

The cold temperatures expected today prompted school officials in three area districts to delay the opening of school by two hours for the second straight day.

A Perquimans County Schools spokeswoman said the delayed opening would allow buses time to warm up and drivers to begin their routes in the daylight.

“Hopefully, this avoids our students having to wait outside for the bus in the dark,” said school spokeswoman Brenda Lassiter.

All after-school events and athletic events today will go on as scheduled, Lassiter said.

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools spokeswoman Angela Noblitt also said the delay would allow bus routes to begin in daylight. Staff were expected to report for work at the normal time, Noblitt said.

The Edenton-Chowan Schools also delayed school openings by two hours.

Elizabeth City power customers weren’t the only ones who lost power on Tuesday because of the freezing temperatures.

Albemarle Electric Membership Corp. spokesman Chris Powell said 25 to 30 AEMC customers living at Albemarle Plantation in Hertford lost power about 7 a.m. Tuesday. AEMC restored their power in an hour, he said, adding that high demand likely factored into the outage.

Tuesday morning in fact set an AEMC record for energy demand, Powell said. The electric cooperative’s peak system load is 77 megawatts. A more normal usage for a winter morning is 60 megawatts, he said.

Powell said AEMC had more crews on duty than normal Monday evening to ensure rapid responses to power outages.

Dominion Power reported that 435 customers lost power in the town of Ahoskie, in Hertford County about 2:20 a.m. One of those customers was Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Harris said. Power was restored at the hospital by 3 a.m., but there were still customers without power early Tuesday.

Harris said failed equipment caused the outage. Harris said Dominion had other scattered outages in northeastern North Carolina, including on the Outer Banks and in Roanoke Rapids. She said crews were responding as quickly as possible to restore service.

All three electricity providers in the area — the city, AEMC and Dominion — have suspended all service shutoffs during the blast of freezing weather.

No major incidents were reported overnight Monday.

Pasquotank-Camden-Elizabeth City Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Saunders said there were multiple alarm calls associated with the power outage. Police and the Highway Patrol in Elizabeth City said there were no major vehicle accidents.

Elizabeth City Fire Marshal Barry Overman said no fires were reported.

In Camden County, Sheriff Tony Perry said he hadn’t been advised of any serious incidents caused by the extremely cold temperatures.

The freezing temperatures did result in burst water pipes. Saunders said her office received one report of water “gushing” at a residence. She said it likely was the result of burst water pipes.

Standard Plumbing Sewer and Drain, Inc. Owner Donnie Denny also said his company received eight to 10 complaints of burst pipes on Tuesday.

Most area wrecker companies reported a typical day Tuesday, but one fielded more business than usual because of the cold.

Pro Tow of Elizabeth City responded to 16 calls in a three-hour period, said owner Mike Weisz.

While six of those calls were in response to dead batteries and one was a “lockout,” the first six calls were actually for vehicles that had overheated.

“You would not think this would be the day for overheating,” Weisz said.

One of the vehicles overheated because the motorist apparently put water in the radiator instead of antifreeze, and the water froze and cracked the radiator, he said.

Tuesday’s record-setting electricity demand underscores the city’s need for a second electrical delivery point, Olson said.

Olson explained that the city normally mitigates high electrical usage by switching on up to 16 generators “strategically placed” at key buildings around the city.

When the city restored power shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, city officials saw that systemwide demand was at 71 megawatts. That’s within the tolerance of Dominion Power’s transformer, which should handle no more than 75 megawatts.

With demand seemingly within that comfort zone, city officials tried deactivating their “load management control” and turning off the generators. The system load shot up to 88 megawatts, and city officials quickly got the generators back online.

Olson said that the city’s electrical provider, N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency, would only bill the city for 71 megawatts for that time, holding electrical costs down some. Nevertheless, he said that’s record-setting demand, and underscores the need for a second electrical delivery point. That delivery point is currently under construction.