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Albertans asked to conserve energy during extreme cold snap

Click to play video: 'Cold snap putting Alberta’s power grid to the test'
Cold snap putting Alberta’s power grid to the test
WATCH ABOVE: Extreme cold prompted an energy emergency alert for several hours in the province last night as Albertans were asked to do anything to conserve electricity. As Dan Grummett reports, it's a reminder that Alberta's power supply is not infinite – Dec 28, 2021

Albertans are being asked to consider ways they can conserve power during the extreme cold weather.

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which manages and operates the provincial power grid, declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 2 at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

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The AESO said “extreme weather affecting the operations of some generation facilities” prompted the move.

An Energy Emergency Alert Level 2 means the system is using reserves.

“With the extreme cold affecting some generation facilities, you can help by turning off your holiday house lights early tonight,” the AESO suggested in a tweet.

Click to play video: 'Downtown Calgary apartment building evacuated during cold snap'
Downtown Calgary apartment building evacuated during cold snap

At around 2 a.m. Tuesday, the AESO said it had returned to “normal grid conditions.”

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However, the operator asked Albertans to consider how they can help conserve energy through the cold snap, including:

  • Turning off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances
  • Minimizing the use of air conditioning/space heaters
  • Delaying the use of major power-consuming appliances such as washers, dryers and dishwashers until after the peak hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Using cold water for washing clothes (Most of the energy used goes to heating the water). Only running full loads helps too
  • Cooking with your microwave, crockpot or toaster oven instead of the stove
  • Limiting the use of kitchen or bathroom ventilation fans
  • Using motion detector lights in storage areas, garages, and outdoors when possible
  • Working on a laptop instead of a desktop computer (laptops are more energy efficient than desktop units).

Mike Deising, director of communications for AESO, said every little bit helps.

“If everyone can turn off one light or a couple of lights or, at this time of year, their Christmas lights if they don’t need them on, that really does help.”

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Environment Canada had all of Alberta and most of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, along with parts of Manitoba and Ontario, under extreme cold weather warnings.

The wind chill can range between -40 C and -55 C in Edmonton and Calgary, the agency said. Extreme cold could persist into next week, the agency added.

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Environment Canada issued the extreme cold warning for all of Alberta on Sunday.

The cold snap has seen calls to AMA go up 800 per cent.

“Yesterday alone we saw over 7,500 phone calls come into AMA requesting roadside assistance,” AMA spokesperson Jeff Kasbrick said on Tuesday.

Anyone stranded on the roads in Edmonton Tuesday morning was told the wait for a tow with AMA was more than three days and 77 hours. The wait for a battery boost was an estimated 40 hours.

“Every possible tow truck and tow operator that can be out on the road, we’re doing so. Not only within AMA’s own fleet, but with AMA’s contracted partners all across the province,” Kasbrick said.

“We do all that we can to prioritize those that are potentially not in a safe location. “What we ask for in return is a little bit of understanding and patience.”

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Traffic Tips: What to pack in an emergency car kit

Kasbrick advises Alberta drivers to stay home if they can. If that’s not an option?

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“Make sure you’re plugging your vehicle’s block heater in at least four hours priori to your departure, more if you can, and make sure your gas tank is on full.”

Click to play video: 'Cold wreaking havoc on Alberta vehicles'
Cold wreaking havoc on Alberta vehicles

He also suggests checking tire pressure as it drops in the cold.

“Bring with you an emergency roadside kit so that you have things like a warm blanket, warm clothing, a reflective cone, maybe some food to sustain you.”

Click to play video: 'Tips for getting your home and furnace ready for winter'
Tips for getting your home and furnace ready for winter

The staff at Furnace Family in Edmonton have been very busy, to say the least.

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“With the cold snap, it’s driven business through the roof,” said Tyler Friesen.

Still, the seven technicians will try to respond to urgent calls within the day — sometimes working as long as 14 hours a day, Friesen said.

The company is also dealing with part shortages and supply chain issues but “we’re doing our best,” Friesen added.

“It’s Edmonton, we’re going to see the cold weather… all we can do is try to prepare for it as best as possible.

“Currently we’re seeing a lot of frozen intakes and exhaust vents on high-efficiency furnaces, lots of dirty filters, just lack of maintenance.”

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Friesen said the best thing residents can do is keep up on basic ​maintenance: check the furnace filters, change the batteries in thermostats and keep an eye on outside vents for ice accumulation.

“The furnaces are definitely working triple overtime, especially with the low overnights… You’re going to want to make sure you’re doing the bare essentials.”

If your furnace goes down, Friesen suggests trying to supplement heat — using a space heater or wood-burning stove if you have one — and then to call for assistance as soon as possible. ​

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And, if you’re furnace is getting old — the typical lifespan is 25 to 30 years — consider replacing it, Friesen said.

“It’s better to be proactive than reactive in these temperatures.”

Click to play video: 'BC shivers amidst record cold snap'
BC shivers amidst record cold snap

Deising said the Level 2 Energy Emergency Alert is triggered when the operator has to dip into energy reserves.

“Obviously, with the extreme cold weather we’re experiencing here right across the province, it is challenging the power system and last night we did have a number of generators that weren’t able to produce their maximum capacity so we were running short on power.

“There were no outages. We were able to maintain reliability throughout the evening.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton weather forecast: Dec. 28, 2021'
Edmonton weather forecast: Dec. 28, 2021

Deising said this is the first time this winter season this type of alert has been issued. The last one happened in the summer during the heat wave. It’s been more than 20 years since the operator has had to issue a Level 3 Energy Emergency Alert, which is when outages are reported.

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Read more: British Columbians asked to avoid travel, check on neighbours amid frigid weather

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There were a number of factors that resulted in Monday night’s power situation, Deising said.

“Because of the severe cold weather across the west, we weren’t able to import a bunch of extra energy from our neighbours because they were requiring theirs. And last night, because it was so cold, we didn’t have much wind blowing in the province… we didn’t have wind resources.”

On Monday night, energy demand was an estimated 11,500 megawatts. The all-time high for Alberta is 11,729 megawatts, which was set in February.

“What we saw last night is the demand stayed high well into the later part of the evening. Normally, we’ll see demand — kind of after that 6 or 7 o’clock hour — kind of drop off. Last night it stayed high all the way until past midnight.”

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