Carolina power outage: Duke Energy cuts electricity to thousands

As extreme winter weather chilled much of the United States during the holiday weekend, Duke Energy announced Saturday that it was imposing rolling power outages in the Carolinas on Christmas Eve because of increased strain on the energy grid.

Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress said they, like other utility companies nationwide dealing with the Arctic blast, were asking customers to conserve usage and expect “load shedding steps that include interruptions in service.”

Nearly 340,000 Duke Energy customers were without power at noon Eastern time, according to the utility’s outage map, including more than 140,000 in the Charlotte area. The number of customers in the Carolinas without power had reached close to 500,000 at one point Saturday morning.

“Due to the extreme cold temperatures and subsequent demand for power around much of the nation, electricity supplies are very tight,” parent company Duke Energy wrote in a news release on Saturday. The company said the temporary outages, many lasting 15 to 30 minutes, were “necessary to extend available power generation and help maintain operations until additional power is available.”

But for some of the hundreds of thousands of Duke Energy customers who were without power, the move came without warning and at the worst time: Homes in the Carolinas are faced with frigid temperatures on a weekend when families are gathering for Christmas Eve and Hanukkah. Saturday temperatures dipped into the single-digit wind chills for much of North and South Carolina.

“I can’t believe @DukeEnergy cut off power to my #Charlotte neighborhood at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve with no warning & are now saying these are planned outages,” tweeted Leslie Mac, who said the company “failed to even auto text your customers to allow us to prepare. It’s the coldest day of the year.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) tweeted that he had spoken with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good “to offer assistance and to express urgency about the need to restore power quickly in this extreme cold while keeping customers accurately informed.”

“I’m grateful for the workers braving the wind and cold to get the power back on,” the governor wrote.

This morning I spoke with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good to offer assistance and express urgency about the need to restore power quickly in this extreme cold while keeping customers accurately informed. Grateful for the workers braving the wind and cold to get the power back on. – RC

— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) December 24, 2022

A spokesperson with Duke Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday morning.

At least 1.5 million people nationwide were without power Friday, when a fearsome storm tore through much of the country. Storm gusts zapped power in Texas and along the East Coast, especially Virginia and North Carolina. In Louisiana, the state’s fire marshal noted “several instances of widespread power outages in different spots across our state” and urged people to explore alternative power and heating options.

The attention on North Carolina’s power grid comes weeks after shootings at two electrical substations in the central part of the state left thousands of homes without power and highlighted the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. The FBI is investigating.

The National Weather Service issued wind-chill warnings Saturday morning for western parts of the Carolinas, where the agency said the temperature could feel like negative-40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Among the tips Duke Energy gave customers were to “select the lowest comfortable thermostat setting and bump it down several degrees whenever possible,” “avoid using large appliances” and “shift nonessential activities, like laundry, to late evening hours when power demand is lower.”

“We sincerely appreciate the cooperation and patience of our customers, who can help ensure the stability and reliability of the system for all by taking these steps,” Daniel Stephens, manager of system operations for Duke Energy Carolinas, said in a news release.

Customers were infuriated by the lack of warning about the load shedding.

“Make it make sense,” one customer tweeted.

“I don’t fault @DukeEnergy if they needed to do this. Had to be a tough call to make,” tweeted writer Corey Inscoe. “But it seems like they should have warned people and/or let people know whether their outage is intentional or caused by the storm.”

Others noted the timing of the outage, with one critic renaming a famous Dr. Seuss holiday story: “How Duke Energy Stole Christmas.”

And some, well, just couldn’t figure out why their power was out during the extreme winter weather.

“Duke Energy just blacked out our power,” author Dennis Mersereau wrote. “It’s 8 degrees.”

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