Ice wipes out power, water as state's grid unable to handle demand
Texas continues to experience power outages and poor road conditions due to the week of Arctic weather, as 2.6 million in the state are without power, according to a Reuters report.
Locally, the City of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County continue to have electric outages and water infrastructure issues of their own.
See previous story here: '6,300 county residents left in the cold'
“The main problems that we are dealing with today (Wednesday) are infrastructure issues related to the water and electric system. We are not at a critical stage yet with our water tanks still near capacity,” City Manager Kent Myers said. “However, several of our well sites have lost power, so we are going to ask the public to reduce water consumption today.”
Meanwhile, the city is working with Kory Keller of Allen Keller Co. and a company from San Antonio to get three large generators to the well sites.
“One of the reoccurring events that is having an impact on our water system is the increase in the number of water lines serving our residents that are breaking due to the cold temperatures,” Myers said. “This is causing some flooding of homes and our golf clubhouse.”
He reiterated the water system was “in good shape for now,” but the city is trying to be proactive to prevent major water issues.
“Some cities in this area, such as San Saba, do not have water,” he said. “Other cities, such as Kerrville, are requesting their customers to boil their water due to the loss of water in their systems.”
As for electricity, the city and county are continuing to experience rolling power outages that are likely to continue until temperatures rise over the next couple of days.
“This is due to the fact that the demand on the statewide system exceeds the capacity,” Myers said. “Current demand is about 80,000 MW per day with capacity at about 55,000 MW. ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) is trying to shed the load to non-critical users but they are unable to decrease the load sufficiently to meet the capacity of the system.
Service was lost from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to the Nimitz Substation Tuesday night, resulting in a large portion of the city being out of power for three hours. A temporary fix was made, and LCRA crews are working to make necessary repairs. Another challenge is that crews are still dealing with continuation of falling tree limbs, which disrupt services to different areas to the city.
Emergency Management Coordinator Justin Calhoun said more than 30 people sheltered at Fredericksburg Elementary School Tuesday night with more sheltering at volunteer fire departments throughout Gillespie County.
Related story: 'Emergency shelter offers refuge and warmth'
“They (FES shelter) started out with power, but lost it for about four hours last night,” he said.
He advised people to stay off the roads on Wednesday, due to black ice conditions following participation overnight.
“We’re still recommending people stay home and conserve electricity,” Calhoun said. “If they are in need, they should call us.”
The non-emergency number is 830-997-7585. For emergencies, call 911.
He said crews are working on maintaining infrastructure as best they can.
After more precipitation Tuesday night, up to at least one-fourth to a half-inch of ice coated much of the Hill Country and portions of the I-35 corridor, especially in the northern areas near Austin, according to the National Weather Service.
Freezing weather isn’t expected to be finished either, as a 20% chance of wintry mix is expected for Wednesday night, with a low of 20 degrees. A 30% chance of snow and sleet is expected for Thursday afternoon, with a high of 30 degrees.
Icy weather should end Thursday night, with mostly clear skies and a low of 15 projected by Friday morning. The end of the week also looked clear, with sunny skies on Friday and Saturday and afternoon highs projected at 45 and 52 degrees.
Throughout the weather event, areas of Gillespie County saw blankets of snow.
Daniel Rech in Harper reported up to five inches at his residence since the weather event began. Stonewall resident Jamey Vogel said the highest snow accumulated at his property was 3.5 inches.
Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher declared a local state of disaster for Gillespie County on Sunday, Feb. 14. The declaration will remain in effect for a period of no more than seven days unless renewed by the Gillespie County Commissioners Court.
Read more: 'Frozen with few resources'
Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide emergency and, at Abbott’s request, President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency across the state.
The City of Fredericksburg/Gillespie County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated on Saturday.
Due to continued dangerous weather conditions, the City of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County Offices remain closed on Wednesday.
Officials will continue to monitor weather conditions to determine if offices can reopen Thursday. City services and facilities, including garbage collection and the Recycling Center and Sanitary Landfill, remain suspended through Wednesday.
Weather and road conditions will continue to be evaluated to determine if services and facilities can resume on Thursday.
Community COVID-19 testing events through Thursday, Feb. 18, have been canceled due to the weather.
All area schools will remain closed through Friday. The Doss Consolidated Common School District utilized remote learning.
H-E-B has announced it is curtailing its hours due to weather conditions and high demand. Wednesday’s store hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Store managers will evaluate weather conditions and decide when they will open on Thursday.
Fredericksburg’s primary provider of electric power, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), has advised the city that this area of the state may be experiencing brief power outages until temperatures rise in the next several days, Myers said. All local electric customers are urged to conserve their power use by following the guidelines established by ERCOT:
• Turn down thermostats to 68 degrees.
• Close shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
• Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances.
• Avoid using large appliances (i.e., ovens, washing machines, etc.).
• Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.
• Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes.
“The State of Texas has suffered an unprecedented weather event; several inches of moisture combined with lingering subfreezing temperatures have combined to wreak havoc on CTEC’s electric infrastructure, causing the worst widespread power outages that CTEC has seen in years, with Gillespie County getting hit the hardest,” CTEC Chief Executive Officer Bob Loth said in a news release Tuesday.
ERCOT entered its third highest level of emergency operations due to demand exceeding supply, Loth said.
ERCOT and LCRA began rolling outages in the area Monday morning to conserve energy across the state and protect the electric grid from uncontrolled outages.
Related story: 'CTEC caught in perfect storm'
“Central Texas Electric Co-Op does not have any control over which members are affected by these rolling outages,” he said. “When a rolling outage occurs, members can be without power for one to three hours and may experience more than one of these outages per day.”
At one point on Tuesday, CTEC had more than 300 three-phase poles down, affecting Cherry Mountain Loop, Rocky Creek, Pecan Creek Road, Enchanted Rock, Willow City, Bear Creek, Center Point Road, 2323 and other areas, Loth said.
“Harper and Doss outages were caused by ice on LCRA transmission equipment, causing downed lines and poles, which LCRA and CTEC crews are working to resolve.”
He added that, due to infrastructure damage, they couldn’t provide estimated times for restoration.
“If you have a medical condition, it’s suggested you move to a safe location with family or friends,” he said. “Our service crews and office personnel are working 24/7 to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.”
According to The Texas Tribune, the state’s electricity grid was designed for high demand during the summer, when air conditioning is used the most. Some of the energy sources that power the grid during the summer are offline during the winter. When people stayed home during the storm over the weekend and demanded record amounts of electricity, the state’s energy system could not keep up.
Additionally, some of the energy sources powering the grid were knocked out by the inclement weather, most of which were facilities run by gas, coal or nuclear energy.
“Most of the plants that went offline during evening and morning today were fueled by one of those sources,” Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, told the Tribune on Monday.
Many wind turbines were iced over and also out of commission.
Woodfin said there simply is not enough supply to meet the demand for electricity, which is resulting in rolling blackout and brownouts.
“We have to maintain the balance of supply and demand on the system to maintain the reliability of the system as a whole,” he said. “If we don’t have more supply, the only thing we can do is start to reduce demand.”
ERCOT announced Sunday that it set a winter record demand for power, reaching 69,150 megawatts between 6-7 p.m. ERCOT said Monday morning that 30,000 megawatts of power generation had been forced off the system.