Cold misery continues: Many Brownsville residents still without power

Brownsville residents endured power outages for another day on Tuesday as a result of a late winter blast that dumped large amounts of snow and ice on parts of Texas farther north but sent temperatures well below freezing even as far south as the Rio Grande Valley.

Residents were without power due to rotating power outages mandated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to protect the state’s electrical grid, and also because of issues with the local grid due to extremely high demand as South Texas shivers.

Ryan Greenfeld, spokesman for Brownsville Public Utilities Board, said Tuesday morning that rotating outages would continue throughout possibly into Wednesday until stress on the statewide grid has eased. BPUB customers affected by the rotating outages are generally without power for one to two hours, although many customers lacking electricity because of problems with the local grid were without power most or all of Tuesday.

In some cases, power was being restored to parts of town only for it to go down again because of excessive immediate demand, Greenfeld said, emphasizing the importance of turning off heaters and all non-essential electric appliances such as computers and TVs while the power is off, then turning them on again gradually once power is restored.

Because of the stress on the grid, residents should avoid all non-essential electricity use in order to improve the chances of the power staying on once it’s been restored, he said.

“Once repairs are completed or even if they’re doing a rotation and we try to energize and area, the instant demand is so great that it goes out again,” Greenfeld said. “It’s maybe able to go up for a minute or two and then it goes down. … What happens is once everyone get restored, all of a sudden every heater turns on and that’s a huge, huge demand. It’s causing a lot of these feeders to lock out again.”

On Tuesday, motorists sat in long lines at the few gas stations that had electricity or hadn’t run out of fuel. Likewise the lines of cars at fast food restaurants snaked out into the street. Hotels and motels, some experiencing outages themselves, saw unusually high bookings as people sought warm shelter away from their chilly homes as temperatures barely climbed above freezing Tuesday.

Depending on the weather and related electrical usage across Texas, it’s possible rolling outages and other issues could continue today (Wednesday), Greenfeld said.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” he said. “I would say that until until ERCOT says differently just make to conserve electricity as much as possible for the people who do have it. For the people who for whatever reason are currently down, to be mindful of the fact that that initial load upon re-energizing can end up also knocking them out. Just try to take some precautions with that.”

BPUB was issuing regular updates on affected parts of the city on its Facebook page, Twitter and the BPUB website. Also, the utility was sending texts and land line voice messages to customers when their power is restored and reminding them to limit usage as much as possible.

What’s happening with the demand on the state’s electrical grid is unprecedented and was difficult to predict considering it happened so late in the season, Greenfeld said.

“It’s hit the state really hard,” he said. “We certainly understand peoples frustrations,” he said. “It’s a very difficult time right now, and we want to reassure them that we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we’re able to get service back for our customers.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com