TVA braces for coldest weather since Winter Storm Elliott forced power blackouts

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Tennessee Valley Authority's Chickamauga Dam is seen behind transmission towers Feb. 16.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Tennessee Valley Authority's Chickamauga Dam is seen behind transmission towers Feb. 16.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is bracing for the coldest weather since Winter Storm Elliott forced the federal utility to impose rolling power blackouts just before Christmas 2022.

Unlike the power shortfall 13 months ago, TVA officials are more hopeful of keeping the lights on next week and avoiding outages like those that affected most of TVA's 10 million customers Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, 2022.

"This is going to be a test for us, but we've done everything we know to do to prepare for these storms," TVA spokesperson Scott Fiedler said in a telephone interview.

Temperatures across TVA's seven-state region are expected to dip near or into single digits early Wednesday when an Arctic blast comes into the region with high winds next week. In Chattanooga, the National Weather Service predicts temperatures will dip to 10 degrees early Wednesday, and the wind chill, which measures how cold it feels from both the wind and cold temperatures, will make it feel like 8 degrees below zero.

(READ MORE: Cold snap, chance of snow on the way for Chattanooga area next week)

Tim Doyle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tennessee, said it will be the lowest temperature in Chattanooga since thermostats dropped to 8 degrees Dec. 24, 2022, and to 7 degrees the day before.

"January is typically the coldest month of the year, and an Arctic front will move into the western part of the state on Sunday and continue to bring temperatures down for the next few days next week," Doyle said.

The typical cold temperature for this time of the year is about 32 degrees, Doyle said.

(READ MORE: TVA makes upgrades to avoid power outages)

The sudden drop in temperatures just ahead of Christmas 2022, combined with high winds, left TVA without enough power to meet its electricity demands for the first time in TVA's 90-year history. TVA imposed rolling blackouts on 159 companies that distribute its power after instruments froze and cut off power from TVA's biggest coal plant at the Cumberland Fossil Plant near Clarksville, Tennessee, and a dozen natural gas plants failed to operate as planned due to cold weather problems.

Winter Storm Elliott brought the coldest winter storm in the Tennessee Valley in nearly three decades and froze instrument lines for 38 of TVA's power generators, cutting off 6,700 megawatts of power.

In response to the 2022 outages, TVA spent $123 million last year and will spend another $120 million in the current fiscal year to strengthen the design capabilities of its instrument controls to ensure that plants continue to generate power during frigid temperatures and high winds, Fieldler said.

TVA also added 700-megawatt natural gas plants at both the Colbert Fossil Plant in Alabama and the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky over the past year.

"If we had the same weather again (with single-digit temperatures over time), we are prepared now to keep these plants running," TVA President Jeff Lyash said in a November interview.

(READ MORE: Tennessee Valley power supplies not keeping pace with growth, study says)

TVA had no trouble meeting summertime power peaks last year, Lyash said, and the utility has made its grid more temperature-resistant for cold weather this year.

High winds still are cutting off electricity for some area customers, however. On Friday, with wind gusts of more than 40 mph, EPB reported about 4,000 customers lost power from incidents of damaged power lines, poles and equipment in the Chattanooga area.

"Sustained wind guts continue to cause damage to electric infrastructure," EPB spokesperson Sophie Moore said. "Although 4,800 outages were restored automatically through our smart grid (early Friday), crews continue to work as quickly as possible to ... restore about 4,000 customers."

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

  photo  Contributed Photo / A tree falls across the road from high winds Friday.

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