January 4, 2023
Winter Storm Elliot, which gripped our nation in late December, presented many challenges for Starkville Utilities, our customers, and the community. We are encouraged that several proactive steps, including close contact with Tennessee Valley Authority on issues related to electric grid stability, helped us avoid serious service interruptions while reinforcing our commitment to customers.
When severe cold weather strikes and customers turn up heat to stay warm, the increased demand can strain the grid and potentially cause catastrophic damage. That was the case on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 when TVA recorded the highest winter power peaks in its 90-year history along with weather-related issues to several key power generation units. These extreme conditions led to TVA’s unprecedented decision to direct targeted load curtailments.
Over the two-day period, TVA coordinated rolling power outages with Starkville Utilities and the other 152 local power companies in the seven-state region to reduce peak load by 5% and 10%. Causing service interruptions was the last thing we wanted to do, especially in frigid temperatures. Given the circumstances, though, we focused on the greater good and kept our commitment with TVA to help prevent damage to the grid that could have created more serious, sustained problems for customers and communities throughout the Valley region.
It was truly a team effort with our large industrial customers voluntarily reducing their loads to minimal levels, Mississippi State University (our largest customer) sharing tremendously by providing power generation, and most of our residential and commercial customers experiencing brief outages. All these pre-planned efforts were substantial, helping Starkville meet the obligations of our long-term partnership with TVA.
As we worked to minimize electrical system impacts, we also focused on keeping our water system fully operational. Other than two water main leaks attributed to the extreme cold, our utility infrastructure was resilient and performed well. Our water treatment, water distribution/collection and wastewater treatment experienced minimal impacts. This is a testament to the incredible efforts of the staff, their preparation and the on-going capital investments made into the utility infrastructure.
Many of our customers were dealing with frozen lines or burst pipes and needed their water service shut off to prevent damage to their homes. Over the Christmas weekend, nearly half of the water division’s staff worked around the clock in extreme weather to answer the large volume of calls—a total of 146 from Friday through Monday.
It was a remarkable effort that highlighted our employees’ dedication and commitment, as well as their training and preparation. They answered the call and got the job done even when it meant leaving their homes and families on Christmas. I am incredibly proud of their efforts and their displays of selfless service to our community.
At Starkville Utilities, we appreciate the opportunity to serve you and we thank you for your support to the utility system over the Christmas holiday season. Count on us to use this unprecedented weather event as an opportunity to evaluate our performance, to learn and to be even more prepared when the next storm strikes.