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By Sonny Jones

Duke Energy customers in Bladen County were left in the cold Christmas eve morning as the utility interrupted service as part of a plan to deal with higher demand and tighter electricity supplies brought on by extremely cold temperatures.

It may not be the last time that Duke Energy cuts power during this period of increased demand until additional electricity is available and normal operation of the power grid resumes, the company said.

The company cut power to most of Bladen County around 7 a.m. Saturday. In a news release, Duke Energy said it expected “load shedding” to continue until at least 8:30 to 9 a.m. (Saturday) and be in 15 to 30 minute blocks although that timing could vary. However, many customers in Bladen County were without power until early Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t clear whether the lengthy outages were a result of a planned blackout or another issue within the power grid.

The company tweeted Saturday about 5 p.m. that “emergency rotating outages have concluded in the Carolinas.”

In a text Saturday night Duke Energy asked customers to “power down all nonessential electric devices and delaying unnecessary energy use for the next 24-48 hours to help avoid rotating outages in the early morning hours (Sunday) and Monday.

“The extremely low temperatures & high energy demand continue to place an unusual strain on the energy grid,” the Duke Energy text read. “We understand this is a difficult ask given both the holidays and the cold temps and we are grateful for your efforts.”

Overnight temperatures Saturday were in the teens in Bladen County, according to the National Weather Service. The Christmas Day forecast calls for sunshine with a high near 40. Sunday night is expected to be clear with a low around 18. High temperatures are not expected to be above 50 degrees Monday and Tuesday and lows are forecasts to be in the mid 20s.

Duke Energy’s Carolinas Storm Director Jason Hollifield explained the company has systems in place to target prioritized circuits that can reduce energy demand to best maintain the electric system. That process stopped mid-morning Saturday.

“This winter blast and customer demand has been unprecedented in recent history of our region and company,” Hollifield said. “Like other utilities, Duke Energy took action to protect the overall energy grid – avoiding damage that could have meant even longer outages.”

The company also Saturday worked to restore power to about 40,000 customers across North Carolina and South Carolina who experienced outages from a high-wind event Friday.

The company continues to ask for energy conservation during the extreme cold temperatures in the Carolinas to help avoid rotating outages in the early morning hours of Christmas Day.

Duke Energy listed some basic energy conservation steps customers can take:

• Select the lowest comfortable thermostat setting and bump it down several degrees whenever possible.

• Avoid using large appliances – this means appliances with a three-pronged plug, such as dishwashers, ovens and dryers – during high-demand periods like early winter mornings.

• Shift non-essential activities, like laundry, to late evening hours when power demand is lower.

• Charge electric vehicles overnight.

• If you have an electric water heater, limit the use of hot water as much as possible.

• If your power is off, turn off appliances and other electrical devices that may have been on when the power went out, so there’s not an immediate surge on the system when power is restored.

Duke Energy said that bringing a lot of customers back online during extremely cold temperatures can add stress to the system.