Edwards says more power blackouts possible; emergency declaration approved

More electricity blackouts are possible before Sunday as record-low temperatures continue to threaten north and central Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.  

Edwards asked state residents to conserve electricity, especially between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., through Saturday morning. Conservation measures can include turning down the thermostat and putting off running dishwashers and washing machines.

President Joe Biden on Thursday approved Edwards’ request to issue an emergency declaration as Louisiana deals with the severe winter weather, which has been blamed for at least three deaths of state residents. Edwards requested commodities and supplies Wednesday night in response to the extended power outage and Emergency Protective measures under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance program.

About 125,000 Louisianans were without electricity as of noon Thursday, Edwards said. More than 245,000 residents are affected by 98 water-system outages, and almost a million residents are advised to boil their tap water before usage, he said. Driving conditions remain “treacherous” in much of central and north Louisiana, he said.

The Louisiana National Guard had more than 960 members activated for the response Thursday, including support for water distribution.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne announced Thursday state offices will be closed in 29 parishes Friday because of hazardous conditions. Those parishes are Avoyelles, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Catahoula, Claiborne, Concordia, DeSoto, East Carroll, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, Tensas, Union, Vernon, Webster, West Carroll and Winn.

Agency leadership is responsible for determining essential personnel who should remain on duty, report for duty or report to alternate work sites, as necessary.

In Lake Charles, which suffered severe damage during last year’s hurricane season, the water system has struggled to restore pressure after an unannounced blackout Tuesday night. Water pipes have burst in homes that were unoccupied because of storm damage.

Utilities overwhelmed by demand sometimes deliberately institute temporary blackouts, known as “rolling blackouts” or “load shedding,” to conserve power and prevent a catastrophic system failure. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, a regional coordinator in 15 states and one Canadian province, directed Entergy Louisiana to cut the power in Lake Charles for that reason, Entergy said.

“The biggest issue with those [rolling blackouts] was the fact that there just wasn’t advance notification,” Edwards said, adding the decisions are not made locally and communication has improved.

Load shedding still may be needed Thursday and/or Friday night, as north Louisiana braces for record or near-record cold, Edwards said. The low temperature is expected to be above freezing for the entire state Sunday, however.

“We’re not accustomed to these extreme winter weather events,” Edwards said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”