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The US military helped keep the heat and lights on for one Nebraska city as temperatures plummeted

Posted February 18, 2021 6:15 p.m. EST

— When the Polar Vortex descended on the central US and weather turned brutally cold in Omaha, Nebraska, in recent days, the local utility company turned to an unusual partner to get some extra power supplies to help avoid shutoffs to the community.

The nearby Offutt Air Force Base disconnected itself from the local commercial power grid and relied on power from two power plants on the bases for two days. It freed up enough power for the Omaha Public Power District and a pool of other power companies to keep things running for the people of Omaha.

Offutt is home to US Strategic Command, which oversees US nuclear weapons and nuclear launch authorities. Given its importance, the power company already had a close relationship with military commanders there, according to company president and chief executive officer Timothy Burke. The power company went to the military this week for help.

Doug Wend, a civil engineer on the Offutt Air Force Base, received notification from Omaha Public Power District on Friday that they might need help getting power in the area. On Monday morning, when temperatures were nearing -20 degrees, they were "forced into critical and quick action because the situation changed," Wend told CNN.

Wend and his team disconnected the base from the commercial power grid and switched to relying on power from two power plants on site, he said.

The move "was instrumental across the region in helping us," Burke said.

The military agreement, along with other customers that also agreed to generate their own power, was enough to keep supplying the equivalent of 40,000 customers that might have had power interruptions as the intense cold weather saw customer demand spike.

Offutt Air Force Base was able to keep power and continue running operations because of the power plants on their base, which are only used in certain circumstances, including national emergencies, Wend said.

The interconnectivity of the utility and its customers in this region is often used in the hot summer months when demand is high, Burke told CNN. But the super cold temperatures resulted in having to ask for large customers with their own alternative generated power to lend a hand.

"We've never really done it in winter months," he said.

The Air Force base is well integrated into the Omaha community and was happy to help the local power plant, said Capt. Bill Clinton, chief of public affairs for US Strategic Command.

"We always look for ways to help the community out because they help us out in so many ways," Clinton said.

By midday Wednesday, Offutt Air Force Base had reconnected to the commercial grid, Wend said.

The power company reimbursed its helpers for the cost of fuel or other costs they may have incurred.

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