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Power Companies Hope To Prevent Blackouts During Heat Wave

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The best way to beat the heat during this heat wave is to crank up air conditioners. Because of that, Triangle residents are using nearly all available energy from power grids.

Duke Energy said it reached a season-high Wednesday on power usage, at 17,906 megawatts. Progress Energy said that its customers have come very close to breaking its all-time record. Its customers are using 10 percent more power than they normally use in the summer months.

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    When residents depend on energy like that, the worst-case scenario is a widespread blackout. The largest blackout in North American history happened on August 14, 2003, when New York City went dark. The blackout quickly rolled through eight northern states and parts of Canada, affecting 50 million people. Financial losses from the blackout exceeded $6 billion.

    Local power companies are hard at work to make sure that such an event won't happen in the Triangle area.

    "We certainly aren't expecting any blackouts like they have had in the Northeast, but our energy control center downtown is watching the grid very closely," said Julie Hans with progess energy.

    Progress Energy learned lessons from the blackout of 2003.

    "What we're doing is just making sure we're in very close contact with out neighboring utilities, so that if they were to experience a problem, we would have a heads up before it got to our customers, so we could put those measures in place to protect and insulate our customers from that," said Hans.

    To help ease demand and avoid a worst-case blackout, Progress Energy is asking its big industrial customers to conserve more power. For example, WakeMed switched on its emergency generators Thursday to try to lessen the energy load the hospital is putting out.

    Nonetheless, with the blazing sun bearing down, a blackout lingers in the back of many minds across the area.

    "I think that would be the worst situation in this heat right now -- it's over 100 degrees," said local resident Tanisha Wells.

    "Fifty years ago, when there was no such thing as widespread air conditioning, I think we were more used to it," said local resident Paul Stahl. "You could cope with it better. Now with no air conditioning, people (would) die."


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