The ordinance directs utilities to prioritize natural gas and electricity services in order to preserve the health, safety and well-being of the public

Oklahoma Corporation commissioners focused on resolving the upstream side natural gas supply issues on Monday.

On Tuesday, they refocused their attention on the downstream natural gas and electricity needs of critical businesses and residents by considering a proposed emergency decree to keep both in circulation.

A divided committee adopted the order, with committee chair Todd Hiett and Commissioner Dana Murphy supporting it.

Commissioner Bob Anthony opted out of the vote, after arguing that Oklahoma’s constitution already gives state utilities the authority they need to make these kinds of decisions.

“I think there will be unintended consequences that we will have to face,” said Anthony.

Specifically, the ordinance directs regulated utilities (in a manner consistent with commission rules) to prioritize natural gas and electricity services necessary for public life, health and safety, and to prioritize those services. deliveries of natural gas to power generation facilities that meet human needs.

It also directs utilities to coordinate these activities with commercial and industrial consumers in order to reduce loads in a safe and reasonable manner.

In addition, the ordinance calls on utilities to advise customers to take measures to help save energy, including turning off external lighting not necessary for public safety, unplugging unnecessary electrical equipment, and turning down lights. thermostats.

“We are in need of emergency relief due to the weather conditions that we have seen over the past few days,” said Brandy Wreath, who, as director of the commission’s utilities division, proposed the order for approval. “This would allow utilities and pipeline operators to make decisions that would be necessary to divert natural gas to help keep people alive.

“We want to be sure that if there is a decline in the system that requires more drastic action, we want to be sure that there are reasonable and achievable things they can do for the purposes of safety, health. and public welfare. From the many conversations we have had, we realize that this does not come without costs, problems and concerns for businesses that experience hijacking.

“But when it comes to public health and safety, we really make sure that these suppliers have all the tools that we can make available. People did all they could, willfully, ”Wreath said.

Commissioners voted on Tuesday evening after spending more than 90 minutes debating the issue earlier today.

The version approved Tuesday night included improvements Murphy had made to the proposal with the help of his team and staff in the commission’s utilities division.

Anthony’s main problem with the proposed ordinance was that he believed the Oklahoma regulatory utilities already had the authority to make the types of calls that the ordinance allows through the constitution of l State, which allows these companies to serve the public conscientiously.

He also said it would have been more appropriate if the proposed order had been submitted by each relevant utility, although Wreath disagreed, saying that a single order was a desperately needed time saver.

“It is my duty to raise the issue as quickly and effectively as possible,” he said.

Comments on the proposed order were also made by Deborah Thompson, representing independent power producers and AARP Oklahoma, and Bill Hume, representing Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.

Thompson told commissioners that the current natural gas and electricity supply crisis provides another example of why demand management is essential throughout the year.

And while she agreed that it was vitally important to keep the flow of services flowing to residents of the state, she stressed that all other alternatives should be exhausted first.

“Our utilities reduced their load where they could, early in this process,” Wreath replied. “The SPP has exhausted its resources and has had to rely on importing energy from neighboring systems to support demand.”

Hume said he understood concerns some industrial and commercial utility customers might have about having their electric or natural gas services terminated without much warning. But he added that there was a possibility that those services could be interrupted anyway if the delivery systems went down.

“To put it bluntly, if it’s about producing gadgets and saving lives, we all know what needs to be done,” Hume said.

Thomas P. Schroedter, who represents the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers organization, said he was concerned that the ordinance could potentially cause damage to the equipment of the companies he represents whether their electricity or natural gas utilities had to be disconnected.

“Whenever possible, reasonable advice to these customers should be provided,” Schroedter said.

Commissioners also heard from Alesia Wright, a resident of Edmond, who explained to them how the restrictions implemented by OG&E on Tuesday morning impacted her home and the homes of other members of her community.

Wright thanked the commissioners for their attention to the matter, including discussing how non-essential businesses could be hurt.

“But when it comes to detailing things, it’s the people that matter most,” Wright said.

President Hiett thanked Wright for his comments, noting that everyone involved in the process agreed with his sentiment.

“Our discussion is not about what the priority is, but how it should be carried out. I agree, it creates an awkward situation, but it’s something I’ll be willing to support, ”Hiett said of the order.

Murphy agreed, saying, “It’s been a tough situation for everyone. We understand that we have rules that utilities follow and that they are supposed to have plans for situations that arise.

But Murphy went on to point out that the commission’s utilities division opened an investigation after the ice storm in late October to see how all electrical entities reacted to the event.

“It sent a message to the public, lawmakers and others that we are at work and take this stuff seriously,” Murphy said. “We can quote to our rules whatever we want … but we have to do what we think is right and best.”

Natural gas turbines at Oklahoma Gas & Electric's Mustang Energy Center in western Oklahoma City are feeding energy into the grid on Tuesday. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

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