Avoiding A Blackout: Why Fort Wayne Had to Turn Off The Lights

By Stephanie Parkinson

September 12, 2013 Updated Sep 12, 2013 at 5:39 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) - For the first time ever Indiana Michigan Power was forced to turn off the lights on thousands of people in Fort Wayne Tuesday.

Unseasonably hot weather caused a drain on the power system. That was expected with 90 degree temperatures across the area. But equipment problems in other areas made things even worse, and forced a quick decision to do controlled power outages in several states, including Indiana.

I&M was given a five minute warning to shut power off to 3,300 customers Tuesday. The company operating the grid that feeds power to the area, PJM, hit an all-time high for power usage for the month of September.

This emergency system has never been used in our area before. It was put in place after the 2003 Blackout, that left millions of people in the northeast section of the country in the dark for days. The goal of smaller, controlled power outages is to prevent another blackout of that magnitude.

"The bigger issue is that instead of only 3,300 customers being out it could have had a significant impact on our customers, taking out several more and it could also damage our equipment," said Erica Putt, Indiana Michigan Power.

Another problem with this month is it's a time when sections of the power system are already shut down.

"This is a good time for all utilities to do some sort of planned, or unplanned maintenance work on different lines. So when the weather is extremely hot in a September month, then the peak demand can be exceeded which requires, PJM requires, I&M to take out customers," said Putt.

If I&M wouldn't have complied with PJM's request Tuesday they would have faced significant fines.

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