Extreme Weather Causes Major Blackouts Across US – How to Save Energy, Reduce Heating Costs This Winter

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nati Harnik/AP/Shutterstock (6141304b)Sunlight streams through the windows of a building which caught on fire in Plattsmouth, Neb.
Nati Harnik/AP / Shutterstock.com

There’s still plenty of winter ahead, and the U.S. is seeing major snowstorms and freezing temperatures that are causing blackouts across the country.

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This is prompting several companies to take unprecedented steps. For example, Southwest Power Pool, which controls a power and electric grid across 17 central and western U.S. states, said yesterday it had initiated controlled outages to maintain its system reliability, according to a statement.

“In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Lanny Nickell, SPP executive vice president and COO, said in a statement. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude.”

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The NHL had to cancel a game in Dallas last evening due to “extreme weather conditions that have caused significant power outages in the Dallas area,” according to an NHL statement.

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And the Houston Chronicle informed subscribers that it didn’t expect to be able to produce a printed newspaper for Tuesday, as the newspaper has been without power since 2 a.m., according to CNN.

“Even during Hurricane Harvey, our facility never lost power and we never stopped producing the print edition, but each weather emergency brings its own twists,” the newspaper wrote, according to CNN. “With the freezing temperatures expected to linger for the next 3-4 days, we have no indication of when power will return to our plant; even after it is restored, it will be many hours before we can return our facilities to full capacity.”

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This underlines how vulnerable the power systems are to unexpected switches in the weather, according to Bloomberg, which notes that “If we’re to avoid similar problems down the track, we’ll need to spend much more reinforcing our grids against such eventualities. At the most basic level, the world is shifting toward greater use of electricity in heating, as boilers using gas, oil, coal and wood are phased out.”

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In addition to the inconvenience stemming from these weather events, there are also financial costs. For individuals, there are certain steps that can be taken to lower bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7-10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day.

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The department says that heating your home uses more energy and costs more money than any other system in your home — typically making up about 42% of your utility bill. “The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates,” the department says on its website. “You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68 F while you’re awake and setting it lower while you’re asleep or away from home.”

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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