(February 2, 2011)—The rolling power blackouts ordered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas ended Wednesday afternoon, but could resume without notice depending on demand and how quickly disabled generation units can be returned to service.
The blackouts, which began early Wednesday morning, a day after an ice and snowstorm blanketed parts of Texas, caught residents and officials by surprise.
Schools, homes and businesses throughout Central Texas were without electricity at least temporarily Wednesday as utility companies instituted the rotating outages in an effort to prevent uncontrolled blackouts as the demand for electricity surged because of the worst cold snap here in 15 years or more.
ERCOT says "energy conservation is still critical during peak demand periods.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday he was told that burst water pipes at two coal-fired plants triggered the rolling outages.
Dewhurst said this is something that "should not happen."
Dewhurst said he was told that water pipes at two plants, Oak Grove in Robertson County and Sandow in Milam County, forced a cut in electricity production.
Natural gas power plants that should have provided back up had difficulty starting because of low pressure in the supply lines, also a result of the cold weather.
Dewhurst said the demand placed on the Texas grid was nowhere near peak capacity and said he was frustrated by the situation.
The severe weather has led to the loss of more than 50 power generation units, Oncor said, and additional units are going offline because of the cold temperatures.
Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission agreed to transmit 280 megawatts of electricity to Texas between Wednesday and Thursday night.
A commission statement said the electricity would be transmitted
at interconnection points in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from
Laredo, and Piedras Negras, which sits opposite of Eagle Pass.
Some Central Texas residents, however, remained without power throughout the day Wednesday as a result of outages that Oncor says were not related to the rolling brownouts, but instead that resulted directly from the cold, harsh weather.
In some cases, gusty winds downed tree limbs, which fell on power lines and in other cases the soaring demand for power because of the cold overloads the system.
Officials say residents served by providers other than Oncor who are experiencing outages should call the numbers that appear on the backs of their bills.
The City of Killeen opened shelters for residents without power Wednesday at the Killeen Community Center at 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd. and at Lions Club Park Family Recreation Center at 1700-A E. Stan Schlueter Loop.
The shelters will remain open until 10 p.m. Wednesday and will reopen at 8 a.m. Thursday, the city said.
The City of Waco designated the Harrison Community Center at 1718 N. 42nd Street as a temporary warming center for residents whose homes are without heat.
City officials will decide Thursday whether additional resources are needed.
The outages Wednesday affected everything from traffic lights to gasoline pumps.
At least one area radio station was temporarily knocked off the air and some stores were turning shoppers away.
There were several reports of people who were stranded in elevators because of the outages.
Schools were shuffling students and doing the best they could to cope with the situation.
Because of outages, students at the Midway ISD’s Woodgate Intermediate School were moved Wednesday to River Valley Intermediate School. Parents may pick up children there, but the students will be returned to Woodgate in time for dismissal, the district said.
In Belton, parents were encouraged to pick up students at noon at Lake Belton Middle School, Pirtle Elementary and Lakewood Elementary because of outages. Other campuses were operating on normal schedules, the district said.
Waco ISD spokesman Dale Caffey said, “We will deal with the brownouts the best way possible and make arrangements for school lunches despite no power.
“Parents are encouraged to dress their children warmly because the school buildings will be cooler than normal,” he said
Fort Hood, which is considered a priority customer, wasn’t affected by the outages, but post officials asked employees and residents of housing areas to limit electric use.
Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative, which serves about 20,000 customers in McLennan County, started rolling blackouts every 15 minutes Wednesday morning, as well after ERCOT ordered utilities to begin rotating electrical outages to compensate for a power shortage linked to the extreme cold weather.
Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement Wednesday afternoon urging Texans to comply with the call for conservation.
“Because of winter weather conditions that have created an unprecedented demand on the state’s energy grid, many Texans across our state are experiencing power outages today,” Perry said.
“Texas power and emergency management experts are working very closely with ERCOT and various utility providers to ensure power is restored as quickly as possible. Until that happens, I urge businesses and residents to conserve electricity to minimize the impact of this event,” he said.