Here’s a special message from HCEC General Manager, Kathi Calvert:
Many people are asking questions about what just happened to Texas with this last winter event. Why did we have rolling blackouts? Why were my lights out for so long? I will attempt to briefly explain and share what happened at Houston County Electric Cooperative.
There are many contributing factors to the rolling black-outs, but the primary driver was an insufficient supply of gas. The Texas electricity market is highly dependent on gas-supplied power plants. During the record cold weather, gas wells and transmission pipelines froze, while some gas was being shipped north to run power plants out of state as most of the country was in a deep freeze. Texas, normally rich with gas supply, didn’t have much storage set aside to make up for the shortfall.
Insufficient generation reserve was another factor. Aging coal plants have been retired due market conditions and costly environmental regulations. Our energy supply mix has shifted to more solar and wind. Solar and wind are wonderful resources in terms of cost and environmental impact, but they provide limited capacity support. You cannot control the amount of wind and solar available without battery storage which hampers our ability to respond to extreme weather conditions. We cannot make the sun shine, nor can we make the wind blow.
The lack of weatherization of power plants and gas pipelines further crippled infrastructure. Just like many homes were not prepared for sustained cold weather, much of our infrastructure was not properly prepared. Equipment froze up, broke down, plants went off-line as consumers across the state were turning up their heat. Supply was going down as demand was going up, and we were entering a crisis situation.
And, yes, the rolling blackouts were necessary. The best analogy I can share is when a doctor is treating a victim from a car wreck, and they have to choose to amputate a leg or lose the patient. It is an awful decision, because you want to keep the leg and save the patient. If we did not shed load, the entire state would have experienced a wide-spread black-out for many, many days.
Our members in the Oakwood and Groveton area were shed by our power supplier. HCEC was not in control of the load shed actions of our power supplier. We were left off for over 2 days. As we were restored, load was so high when we attempted to reenergize our supplier could not maintain service to us. Ultimately, we had to break up restoration into small sections bringing people back on a little at a time, letting the load settle down to “normal” levels before restoring the next section. It was extremely time consuming. We had over 80 man-hours in restoration of Oakwood alone not for damage, but dealing with the aftermath of an extended black-out while freezing conditions continued. If we were in a wide-scale blackout, the same time-consuming steps restoring power in small increments would have been required for the entire state, ultimately leaving millions of more consumers without power much, much longer.
For our load shed actions, we rotated outages more frequently allowing at least 2 hours with power and minimizing outage time to approximately 45 minutes. We never want you be without power, and we are grateful for your sacrifices. As the situation with electric grid began to improve, the tail of the cold weather system moved through our area with ice. Trees began falling taking our lines down with them. We doubled our work force with assistance from fellow cooperatives and right-of-way contractors and began picking up damage. It was slow, tedious work. We understood you were cold, tired and miserable. Many of us were in the same situation as you, but we persevered. We worked diligently to safely restore your service as fast as we could. We always wish it was faster. It simply takes time clear the amount of damage we sustained.
The conditions this past week have been unlike anything we have ever faced. Please know you have a team of dedicated employees that truly care about you and your well-being. We will do whatever it takes to serve you to the best of our ability.