Impact of extreme cold weather on Stillwater utility customers unknown
Mike Seals - March 14, 2021 10:06 pm
(STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA / March 12, 2021) – The City of Stillwater is still working to determine the customer impact of February’s extreme cold weather that caused historic, never-seen-before stress to utility services across a significant section of the country.
“We’ve used the word unprecedented a lot this past year, and that describes what happened in February,” said Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle. “The severity and duration of the cold temperatures strained every single service we provide residents.”
“Once again, we are so appreciative of the efforts of residential and business customers who took a variety of measures and made numerous sacrifices to conserve energy during the event. And, I can’t say enough about the incredible job Stillwater employees did to keep serving customers in extreme and dangerous conditions,” said McNickle.
Stillwater’s electricity service is provided by the Grand River Dam Authority, which uses natural gas, hydroelectricity, wind and coal to generate electricity. While the weather tested all sources of energy, natural gas was hit the hardest. A record surge in demand caused skyrocketing prices for natural gas. (As a reminder, Stillwater does not provide natural gas to customers.)
In the City of Stillwater’s case, the price for a dekatherm (a unit of energy) of natural gas went from $2.85 a dekatherm (dth) to an unthinkable $428.00 for six straight days. That is 150 times higher, or a 15,000% increase.
The City’s natural gas bill for February was $15.7 million. Its annual budget for natural gas is $1.3 million a year. The Stillwater Utilities Authority Board approved a $20 million budget amendment to pay for the City’s unprecedented gas bill for February.
Electric Utility staff remained on high alert for seven days working around the clock to ensure grid stability and comply with directives coming from the Southwest Power Pool, which manages the electric grid and the wholesale power market for the central U.S.
The loss of electricity and record low temperatures caused pipes to freeze at Kaw Lake, which supplies Stillwater’s water, leading to alarmingly low levels of water. Stillwater turned to Oklahoma State University for assistance. “Without OSU’s help, we would have seen significant water outages for our customers,” said McNickle. OSU pumped two million gallons of treated water a day into the City’s system for three days.
The cold weather also caused two pump motor failures and froze three pumps at the City’s wastewater treatment plant. During the severe weather, customer water usage hit a high of 12.5 million gallons a day, which equaled usage during peak summer months. Much of the water increase was from dripping faucets to combat freezing pipes. City crews repaired 17 main waterline leaks during the frigid cold weather event.
City Waste Management employees took extreme and on occasion heroic steps to complete trash pickup the week of the extreme cold weather. Recycling was canceled for the week and debris pickup from the October ice storm had to be delayed.
“We just don’t know the final impact of the severe weather on customers,” McNickle said. “We are still dealing with too many unknowns.
“We don’t know the full implications of Oklahoma being declared in a state of emergency by the federal government on February 12. We are not sure what steps the state might take and we are still waiting to see how the Grand River Dam Authority will be handling costs. Plus, there is the question of price-gouging. I have asked Oklahoma’s Attorney General to investigate the wild fluctuation in natural gas prices.”
The City will share details of the impact on the electric portion of customer’s utility bills as soon as possible. “
To address water needs, the City plans to seek federal dollars to build a redundant pipeline from Kaw Lake to upgrade Stillwater water service and mitigate the possibility of future water shortages for Stillwater customers.
McNickle said the City leadership also is assessing its service, procedures and communications during the severe February weather. “Our City came through the severe weather better than many other communities, but we are always looking for ways to do an even better job of serving the people of Stillwater,” McNickle said.