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Blame for Christmas Eve Blackouts Lies with TVA, Says Oxford Utilities GM

By Alyssa Schnugg

News editor


When the Tennessee Valley Authority ordered its 153 local electric suppliers to reduce their load by 10 percent in an hour Christmas Eve morning, Oxford Utilities had a plan and put that plan into place within minutes of TVA’s call.

“Achieving a 10 percent reduction in load is impossible,” said OU General Manager Rob Neely Tuesday during the Oxford Board of Aldermen meeting. “Each breaker carries a different size load … they’re all balanced effectively but not perfectly. We did our best to meet the requirement in the first hour.”

Neely briefed the Board of Aldermen on what led up to the rolling blackouts on Christmas Eve day and the city’s response to TVA mandating the rolling blackouts that morning.

While temperatures did drop well below zero with the windchill factor, Neely said had it happened on a regular business weekday, things could have been much worse.

“The sun was even shining on Saturday,” he said. “I’m sure that helped save it from having a longer blackout.”

Neely said TVA activated “Step 50” of its Emergency Load Curtailment Plan early Saturday morning.

“They called at 4:53 a.m. and told us to reduce our load by 5 percent in an hour,” Neely said. “Fifteen minutes later, they changed it to 10 percent.”

TVA said it was the first time in 89 years that it had to implement Step 50. Neely said local power companies “saved the day,” by reducing the load enough Saturday morning to avoid “Step 60,” where TVA could have shut down whole substations for an unknown amount of time

Neely said the incident was caused by generation asset failure.

The amount of energy it generates fell about 7,200 megawatts short of demand around midday Friday.

TVA’s Cumberland Fossil Plant shut down and several gas-powered units also failed to work, leaving local utility companies forced to do rolling blackouts to help stabilize the power grid.

In Oxford, those blackouts started at about 6 a.m. and lasted about 15 minutes. Most customers experienced about two blackouts before they ended at about 10:40 a.m.

“TVA has taken full responsibility for the failures that occurred,” Neely said.

However, Neely said he has requested a full review of OU’s response and Step 50 plan.

“I want to see if there is something we could do better if it happens again,” he said.

TVA said it will also be conducting a full review of the situation.

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