Brownsville PUB speaks to power ‘blips’: Vegetation hitting lines reason for brief outages

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A view of the Brownsville Public Utilities Board Administration Building and Annex Building. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

When it’s 100 degrees outside with, say, 113-degree heat index and air conditioning the only line of defense against misery, it’s alarming when the power goes out.

Brownsville residents in certain parts of town likely have been scratching their heads recently over brief, intermittent outages sometimes occurring more than once a day. The outages have tended to last less than a minute each, but still manage to produce that familiar sinking feeling, since there’s no way of knowing when the power will come back on when it goes off — a big deal in extreme weather.

A call from the Brownsville Herald to the Brownsville Public Utilities Board seemed to yield an answer.

BPUB spokesman Ryan Greenfeld said windier conditions in recent weeks appear to be the source of the issue, which has primarily affected the area that includes neighborhoods around Old Alice Road between Los Ebanos Boulevard and Boca Chica Boulevard and along Palm Boulevard.

Palm fronds and other vegetation coming into contact with primary power lines due to the wind is the most probable explanation, he said.

“What will happen is the line makes contract with the tree, and it will trip a breaker,” Greenfeld said. “It’ll attempt a couple of times to reconnect. If it’s able to reconnect then obviously your service is restored. Once the wind pushed it off, the breaker was able to reset.”

BPUB sent out a “vegetation crew” over the weekend to trim the offending trees and also hired a tree-trimming contractor to confirm that the job is complete, he said.

“We try to stay proactive as we can when we start getting these reports,” Greenfeld said. “You want to try and make sure to go out and take care of the problem as quickly as we can. So hopefully if these windy conditions persist we won’t be seeing as many of those blinks.”

What has not been causing the sporadic, quick outages is lack of electricity.

A boy sits next to his bicycle under the shade of a palm tree Thursday afternoon, July 27, 2023, in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Despite the fact that air conditions across the state have been cranked for the two months since a record-smashing heat dome parked over Texas like an invisible mothership, energy prices have remained stable and electricity plentiful thanks to renewable assets, solar and wind generation, which happen to produce the most during the hottest part of the day and peak power demand.

In fact, renewables have been propping up the grid during the heat wave even as some old thermal plants — plants that running on coal, natural gas or nuclear power — have been forced offline by the prolonged, extreme heat, according to experts.

Even if the Rio Grande Valley and Texas are fortunate enough to have adequate power through the scorching summer, the heat and dry can cause headaches in other ways for utility providers, Greenfeld said.

“With this heat, with the extended period of dry weather you get the ground kind of contracting, which can cause breaks in waterlines,” he said. “That’s something that we always need to stay very aware of when it gets really dry.”

Greenfeld said the ground is like a sponge, shrinking when it dries out and expanding when it gets wet, which tends to cause problems for underground infrastructure either way.

“When there’s periods of extreme dry weather and then we get a whole bunch of rain, that expansion can also sometimes result in line breaks,” he said.