August 21, 2003

National Blackouts No Worries For City Residents Thanks To Memphis Light Plant

More than 50 million people lost electrical service in eight different states and part of Canada when the biggest power outage in United States history struck Thursday, August 14.

Here in Memphis, residents were weathering the hottest stretch of the year and didn't miss a second of air conditioning or power service of any sort.

Even if the power outage had spread to impact Missouri, which it didn't, residents of the City of Memphis can rest easy because of the security of knowing the local light plant can take care of all their power needs.

"We have no trouble taking care of the town," said plant superintendent Mike Ahland. "Our generators can cover all of the city's needs with electricity to spare."

Ever since the light plant's restructuring project, which was completed roughly a year and a half ago, the facility has nearly doubled its power production capabilities to serve the community. The project included the installation of two new transformers for the substations as well as a new breaker in the plant to allow improved transfer of the electricity generated by the plant.

"If they have a blackout somewhere and we get pressed into action all we have to do is open up a couple of switches to isolate us from the rest of the world and then we could send out our power to run the entire city," Ahland said.

In all, the city maintains 10 generators at the light plant. They all run on diesel fuel with three also having the capability to run on natural gas if necessary.

At peak output the generators can combine to produce an output of 9.2 megawatts. Ahland indicated that roughly five megawatts will serve the entire city of Memphis.

Normally the city purchases power through the MoPEP power consortium of Missouri municipalities that have joined together to provide stronger buying power for better prices. Generally the power for this area is purchased from Northeast Missouri Electric Cooperative in Palmyra.

However under the MoPEP agreement the group is always searching for the best price for power. At points when the price goes higher than normal the city is pressed into service to generate for local users as it becomes more cost effective to run the generators than to buy power.

On Friday last week the plant generated for roughly 90 minutes with another four-hours of running on Monday.

"We have generated more this year than we did last year but we still haven't caught up to 2001 when we ran an awful lot," Ahland said.

Not only can the Memphis Light Plant keep Memphis running but nearly half of the power generated at peak performance can be offered to MoPEP for sale to other customers if the need arises.

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