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Pennsylvania warned of rolling blackouts and asked to conserve; updated local warming center hours

There were about as many snow plows, salt trucks and police cars as there were ordinary cars out and about on Friday morning in Troy Hill.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Troy Hill on Friday, Dec. 23.

The operator of the mid-Atlantic electricity grid for 65 million people is calling for people to conserve electricity into Christmas morning, warning of rolling blackouts because power plants are having difficulty operating in the freezing cold.

Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection issued the emergency call for conservation system-wide across its 13 state footprint, including Pennsylvania, and said it is in touch with state government officials throughout the region.

PJM asked electricity customers to set thermostats lower than usual, if health permits; postpone use of major electric appliances such as stoves, dishwashers and clothes dryers; and turn off non-essential electric lights, equipment and appliances.

Commercial and industrial power users have also been asked to cut back.

PJM officials said simultaneous increased demand across its electric system came as some power plants are having difficulty operating in the extreme cold. They warned of rolling blackouts and said they wanted people to be prepared.

“It’ll be short-lived, we’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but it is a real possibility,” said Mike Bryson, PJM’s senior vice president for operations.

The blinding blizzards, freezing rain and frigid cold that enveloped much of the United States knocked out power to an estimated 1.7 million households and businesses. Utilities in Pennsylvania were reporting more than 25,000 outages across the state Saturday morning.

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The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission repeated PJM’s call for electricity conservation and said people should keep garage doors, doors and windows closed as much as possible, close curtains or blinds to keep heat in and turn down the heat in unused rooms. People were asked to reduce use of electricity if health permits from early Saturday to 10 a.m. on Christmas morning.

PJM territory covers all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The City of Pittsburgh extended hours at four emergency warming centers through late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. As previously reported, high temperatures Saturday dropped well below 20 degrees, the threshold for opening the centers.

  • Sheraden Healthy Active Living Community Center will be open until 11 p.m.
  • Brighton Heights Healthy Active Living Community Center will be open until midnight
  • South Side Market House Healthy Active Living Community Center will close at 8 p.m.
  • Greenfield Healthy Active Living Community Center will be open until at least 5 a.m. on Sunday

Homewood’s Healthy Active Living Community Center closed at 4 p.m. Saturday after accommodating residents affected by power outages.
City officials say they will continue to find additional volunteers to extend warming center hours if needed.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.