Rural electrical providers prepare for winter

A crew with Pedernales Electric was working installing a new single-circuit power line to a nearby water treatment plant Thursday morning west of Cedar Park.  

It's expected the project will help keep electricity flowing to the critical need facility.

Outages caused by the February winter storm have not been forgotten by PEC customers. A lack of confidence in the power grid is fueling demand for a much older power provider. 

The firewood David Billington is selling in Marble Falls is attracting buyers from as far away as Austin and Georgetown. "Oh, every bit of it will be gone by Saturday," said Billington.

Almost every sale has the same reason. "Yeah they are scared that it is going to shut off again, and they are saying the winter storms are going to hit earlier this year," said Billington.

Shortly after the big thaw and power was restored, Pedernales Electric started working on restoring confidence in the utility. An independent review was done on how PEC responded to the storm and those recommendations became a storm action plan.

The changes included:

  • A new smart phone alert system for customers
  • Revising the emergency operations plan to better handle emergency load shedding and to do simulation training
  • Improve the outage map
  • Ramp up the clearing of vegetation in powerline right-of-ways
  • Enhance the outage management system to help differerentate areas with rolling blackouts to those with line breaks
  • Deploy more drones to inspect hard to reach locations

The PEC board of directors will consider more changes on Friday morning.

The area west of Marble Falls is served by the Central Texas Electrical Co-op. FOX 7 Austin spoke to the general manager of that utility about how they are preparing.

"Well, it was a hard lesson and there was plenty to learn from it, and I feel like we've done a pretty good job?" said CTEC general manager Bob Loth.

Twenty percent of the area covered by the utility was hit hard by the winter storm with the longest outage being 23 days. In some places, nearly a thousand power poles snapped under the weight of the ice that accumulated on the lines.

"I heard reports and in the harper area and some places of up to five inches of ice, and it would be difficult for about anything you built to withstand that," said Loth.

CTEC, like Pedernales, has upgraded software to help better identify problem areas and to respond to it.

"Well, I can pledge that we are as prepared today as we can be. We have not cut back on any kind of preparation or any right-of-way clearing or we haven't taken any shortcuts as far as our material. We have one of the big lessons that we learned out of last year's storm, and I believe that we would be much better at in the event it's necessary is our communications," said Loth.

To improve communications the CTEC, like Pedernales, has also updated its own customer alert system.

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