Record cold sparks record demand for electricity

The average date for the last local freeze is Feb. 22.

Mike Gunter, a maintenance mechanic at the University of Florida, looks over a flooded room in the air-conditioning handling room on the roof top after a fire sprinkler head burst on a freezing morning in Gainesville, Fla., January 11, 2010.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 11:25 a.m.

Anyone using non-essential electricity today is asked to try to get by without it for at least one day.

The record cold in Gainesville early Monday resulted in a new record demand for electricity from GRU. Gainesville broke a cold weather record for this date by dropping to 17 degrees early Monday. The old record for January 11 was 20 degrees set in 1959. GRU officials said the new usage record of 468 megawatts was set at 7:23 a.m. The utility's previous instantaneous winter peak demand record was 451 megawatts and was set Thursday morning.

Throughout this cold snap, the utility has noticed demand for electricity at 65 to 70 percent above normal.

In a news release issued Monday afternoon, GRU General Manager Bob Hunzinger said turning off unnecessary electrical devices was important because “We want to ensure an uninterrupted flow of electricity to all customers.”

The organization responsible for overseeing the state's electrical supplies, the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, has noted that record demand was apparent statewide during the record-setting cold snap over the past 10 days.

Because of the intense demand for electricity, Hunzinger said “We ask our customers to be diligent in conserving energy to reduce system demand and to keep their electric bills lower.”

GRU is asking customers to take the following steps to reduce electric use; lower thermostat settings by 5 to 10 degrees, turn off all unnecessary lights, minimize the use of major appliances, reduce the use of sprinkler and pool pumps, close curtains and blinds to help insulate homes and buildings against heat loss, and minimize electric use immediately before and after work when demand typically peaks.

GRU customers dependent on electric powered, life-sustaining medical equipment are urged to check their backup systems.

“Temperatures are forecaste to warm by midweek, and we expect power demand to return to normal ranges,” Hunzinger said. “We appreciate our customers' patience and assistance during this unusual time.”

The record cold Monday morning left classrooms or sections of some Alachua County without heat and at least 30 Gainesville area homes with one or more burst pipes.

GRU spokesman Dan Jesse said the sub-freezing temperatures for several hours overnight are to blame for the scattered heating and water pipe problems.

"We expect there will be more burst pipes reported later today when things have thawed out a little," Jesse said Monday morning.

Around the county, school board maintenance workers were racing to restore heat in various classrooms and building sections.

School board spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said a complete list of schools with heating problems will likely be compiled by Monday afternoon.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marie Trabert said a blast of reinforcing cold air from the north was responsible for the record-setting cold overnight.

"But things will improve later this week when a storm system forms in the Gulf (of Mexico) that will shift the winds and moderate the temperatures,"Trabert said Monday morning. "That will shut off the northerly blast of cold air."

Normally, North Florida has average daytime highs of 66 and overnight lows of 42 in January, according to weather service records. The shift in weather later this week should move temperatures into that range,Trabert said.

Monday morning's record-setting low also set a new record for the number of consecutive days of freezing temperatures at 10 days. The old record of nine consecutive days was set in December 1960

The average date for the last freeze locally is Feb. 22.

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