Power outages could persist; Grid gradually adding capacity

The bad news is that we may not be done with rotating power outages, though the good news is that more generating capacity is coming online statewide, which should mean a gradual scaling back of the mandatory rotating outages residents have been enduring since early Monday morning.

That’s according to Brownsville Public Utilities Board spokesman Ryan Greenfeld, who said the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is calling the shots in terms of how much grid load BPUB has to shed, though the situation is constantly changing.

“Even though we might still have to do rotating outages it’ll affect either fewer people at a time or more people but for shorter duration,” he said. “So that way we’re able to keep people on for longer and have a better rotation.”

The state’s electrical generating capacity plummeted as natural gas froze inside pipelines, starving power stations, and wind turbines iced over at the same time demand skyrocketed after life-threatening winter weather descended on Texas. All parts of the state grid, including Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley, are being pressed into service to protect the overall power infrastructure from collapsing.

Greenfeld said BPUB was also working hard to get customers back online who have been without power, in some cases for days, because of service related issues. The utility is prioritizing areas of town with the most affected customers, then moving on sections were fewer people are affected, he said. As of early Wednesday morning, 1,300 customers were without power due to service-related issues and not rotating outages, with the largest concentrations being 400 customers in the Aberdeen Drive area, 200 around Paso Doble and another 100 around Rockwell and Paredes Line Road, Greenfeld said.

Latest update from Wed morning there were 1,300 total that were out. Out of that couple of the largest ones were 400 out on Aberdeen or in that area. There was 200 Paso Robles, and then 100 in this area of Rockwell and Paredes Line. A common problem across the city has been with feeder stations becoming overloaded when an area’s power is restored because of high immediate demand, Greenfeld said. In some cases it causes electricity to come back on only to go off again a few minutes later, he said.

To lessen the chances of that happening, customers should turn off thermostats and switch off or unplug every non-essential electrical device, and only turn things on again gradually once the power comes back on, Greenfeld said. Residents experiencing a rotating outage should have power back within one or two hours, he said. Customers without electricity for much longer than that are likely being affected by overloaded feeder issues, Greenfeld said.

“We are aware that there are people who have been without power for significantly longer than that,” Greenfeld said. “That’s really today one of our big focuses, is to target a lot of those that had been out the longest and do whatever we can do get them back up and going.”

Fortunately, power plants are coming back online and wind turbines are once again spinning, though according to ERCOT it will be some days before things are completely back to normal, even after the rotating outages stop, he said.

“Once you start getting some of that generation up, that could mean that the call for rotating outages could be rescinded,” Greenfeld said. “Until then, since it’s a shared grid we’re kind of in it together.”

Critical care facilities such as hospitals were initially excluded from rotating outages but are now being included once BPUB confirms their backup electrical systems are functioning, he said. Greenfeld said residents should be prepared for more of the same through the end of the week, though it’s not clear how long rotating outages will be needed. More chilly temperatures were forecast for the Valley and state in coming days.

“I would expect that as long as we have these freezing temperatures that it’s likely that this is something that we might have to contend with,” Greenfeld said.

Abraham Quiroga, spokesman for Magic Valley Electric Cooperative, said that as of early afternoon approximately 2,200 members in Cameron County were still without power for reasons other than rotating outages, which the utility was also conducting per ERCOT mandate. Oftentimes it’s been because of blown fuses, which involves sending a truck to repair it and hope it holds, he said.

“A lot of that work was being done Tuesday (yesterday) and Wednesday (today,) just to try to get some of these people on, particularly those that have been out for quite a while,” Quiroga said. “We’re trying to focus on them as much as possible, but again we’re still dealing with the rotating outages as well. So it’s very possible that somebody could come online and then that section or that feeder gets rotated an hour later or something.”

Magic Valley was trying to reduce rotating outage times to “about an hour,” he said.

“It just depends,” Quiroga said. “Some areas it’s easier than others.”

Crews are working late into the night and starting early in the morning to restore power to the utility’s members, he said.

“We have a lot of employees that are out of power at their homes as well,” Quiroga said. “Our guys are committed to the job. They take pride in that. They won’t rest until the job is done.”

As for the rotating outages, Magic Valley is “at the mercy of the state,” he said, adding that Magic Valley appreciates members’ patience.

“We know that they’re frustrated,” Quiroga said. “We know that they’re upset. We’re trying to do what we can with the resources that we have to get the power back on. To a certain extent we’re limited what we can do by ERCOT. It’s unfortunate, but we just want to let them know that we’re doing what we can to get the power back on.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com