Utilities don't expect severe storm impact

Severe winter storms conjure fears of downed power lines, electrical outages and gas shut-offs.

But if forecasters are right, today's weather shouldn't be much of a problem for electric and natural gas customers, utility companies say, so long as precautions are taken.

"We aren't expecting any widespread problems," Georgia Power spokesman Jeff Wilson said. "Freezing rain is our biggest enemy, and they aren't expecting much of that, so we should be in pretty good shape."

Freezing rain, Wilson said, "sticks to everything, including power lines and trees." If that happens, he explained, tree limbs start breaking and falling "and then you have a mess."

Sleet and snow, which have been predicted, "usually don't cause us a lot of problems, unless it's a big snow (several inches) that can accumulate on limbs (especially pine trees) and they can break."

Georgia Power posts tips on its Web site telling customers how they can survive a winter storm.

In a power outage, the utility suggests using non-electric, unvented space heaters only in well-ventilated areas.

For cooking, a camp stove, fireplace or can of sterno can be used, but not charcoal or any other fuels in unventilated areas.

Customers using an electric generator should plug electric appliances directly into it, not plug it into the home's wiring.

Georgia Power plans to post storm updates at its Twitter site (

). The site also includes cold weather energy efficiency tips. The utility's  parent company, Southern Co., said it set new, all-time winter system peak demand records for electricity Tuesday and Wednesday.

The cold weather drove the high demand, the company said.

Freezing temperatures increase demand for electricity and for natural gas, but they do offer some aid to customers fearful that their gas will be shut off for non-payment of bills. Gas service can't be turned off when the day's high temperature is below 32 degrees.

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