LAFAYETTE — When temperatures began climbing the past two summers, area utility companies issued urgent pleas for customers to conserve electricity to stave off rolling blackouts.
Work to address the problem with improvements to the region’s electric transmission grid should ease the problem this summer, but utility officials are not ruling out the possibility of trouble.
“We are in better shape than last year, and last year was better than the year before,” said SLEMCO spokeswoman Mary Laurent.
The problem is not a lack of electricity but a lack of capacity to move it from one place to another through the transmission grid — a shared network of large power lines that carries electricity from generating plants to the smaller distribution systems of local utility companies.
That grid has struggled to keep up with population growth in Acadiana, raising the specter of rolling blackouts as demand strains the system.
The summer heat did not lead to rolling blackouts in past years, but several utility companies in December briefly cut power to customers throughout the region to relieve pressure from the grid during unusually cold weather.
Cleco, Lafayette Utilities System and Entergy began a joint $200 million project in 2009 to improve the grid, bringing new electrical substations online and installing new transmission lines.
The work is not scheduled to be complete until next year, but some of the benefits should be seen this year because smaller pieces of the larger project are already in place, said LUS Director Terry Huval.
“I think the system is stronger this summer,” he said. “Some of the upgrades have been made.”
Huval is optimistic there will be no issues, especially if the drought subsides and temperatures don’t soar to unusually high levels.
To help address some the problems, LUS has revived older power generators within the city, Huval said.
Lafayette generally pulls much of its electricity from a plant the city partially owns near Boyce, but that electricity must travel through the region’s transmission grid to reach the city.
Running the smaller power plants within the city and taking less power from Boyce can held reduce strain on an overloaded grid.
Cleco, which is handling most of the joint grid-improvement project, has made “significant progress,” company spokeswoman Fran Phoenix said in an email.
Cleco has put three new substations into service and laid 47 miles of new transmission lines, she said.
Phoenix said there are no guarantees about power problems in the coming months, but “we are in better shape this summer because of the work completed thus far.”