Wintry blast taxes grid; Many Brownsville homes without power

The power outages affecting Brownsville residents beginning early Monday morning were a combination of problems with the local grid caused by extreme weather, and rotating outages mandated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas due to unprecedented demand for power because of temperatures well below freezing statewide.

That’s according to Brownsville Public Utilities Board spokesman Ryan Greenfeld.

“Because of so many of these things happening at once, there’s a little bit of confusion from some customers not knowing for sure whether they’re part of a rotating outage or maybe there is a bigger problem that’s trying to be addressed,” Greenfeld said.

While neighborhoods experiencing intentional rotating outages normally would be without power for about one hour at a time, some Brownsville neighborhoods were without electricity for at least several hours Monday. It’s more likely though not certain that those neighborhoods were affected by damage to the local grid, Greenfeld said.

As of noon Monday it wasn’t known what caused the accidental outages, he said.

“A lot of things could happen with the ice causing problems with power lines,” Greenfeld said. “There’s also going to be the possibility for blown fuses because of increased demand. I guess also with all the precipitation that’s going on, especially the fact that it’s been fairly dry, there’s always a greater chance of underground lines being damaged as well. Anytime there’s an underground line that’s damaged, it’s always going to take longer to be able to repair.”

He said BPUB was posting updates on its Facebook page about which parts of town will be — or already are — experiencing rolling outages and also when power is again restored.

“We would always love to be able to give customers an advance notice, to be able to let you know it’s getting ready to happen,” Greenfeld said. “But what ends up happening is our energy control department will get a call from ERCOT and they will instruct them you have X amount of time to shed this much load from your grid.

“That amount of time is a very few minutes, so they need to just react. And by the time I know for sure what area is being affected it’s already out, because they have to act very quick.”

With another freeze forecast for Monday night and/or early Tuesday morning, it’s possible the rolling outages could continue through Tuesday, he said.

“Essentially what they’re doing is they’re looking at the load and they’re looking at all the resources that they have available,” Greenfeld said. “Ideally you want to have a certain percentage more generation available than what’s being demanded. Once it reaches a point where ERCOT feels that the grid would no longer be in jeopardy, that’s when they’ll make that call.

“As long as the demand stays up and these temperatures stay really cold, it might persist for at least maybe the next day. … It’s definitely a fairly unprecedented event really statewide. Definitely the demand on the grid is very great right now.”

Meanwhile, as of early Monday afternoon BPUB crews were still trying to trace the damage to the city’s grid and repair it, Greenfeld said, advising residents to watch the utility’s Facebook page if possible for updates.

“We would like to emphasize that we appreciate people’s patience,” Greenfeld said. “We understand how frustrating it is to not have power at a time like this. It’s an issue that is impacting customers all over the state and we’re just trying to do whatever we can to balance the needs of the state grid and the needs of our customers.”