Texas ice storm: 4% of Austin Energy customers still without power days after major outage

It’s day six with no power for South Austin resident Jackie Padgett. Aside from the inconvenience, lack of heat and spoiled food, it means no ability for the remote worker to run her small business out of her home.

But Padgett is most concerned about the live wire lying in her backyard after a nearby tree snapped.

It’s something she tried to take initiative on this summer, calling Austin Energy when she noticed branches getting close to wires. 

"They came out, and they trimmed only the ones that were touching the wire, and we asked them to trim the trees back further, and they said they could only trim the branches that were touching the wire," said Padgett. "Trees grow, and they get really heavy with ice, so I think it’s definitely a lesson learned, hopefully."

Austin General Manager Jackie Sargent noted at a press briefing on Monday that reviewing the city’s vegetation management program will be part of future action taken post-storm.

Several years ago, Austin Energy did adjust their vegetation management guidelines, but Sargent said it is taking time to implement.

"It's a big system, and we can't get all those trees trimmed overnight," said Sargent. "It’s going to take us approximately three more years to get the whole system trimmed out."

As of Monday afternoon, 4% of Austin Energy customers, roughly 20,000, were still without power. More than 400 mutual aid workers have joined Austin Energy crews working around the clock to restore that power.

"These guys are working 16-hour days," said Craig Brooks, director of field operations for Austin Energy. "They're a long way from home, some of these guys have come from as far as Louisiana, Alabama."


Brooks noted his crews have had to deal with some irate customers. One altercation even prompted a call to APD.

"We understand that you're upset," said Brooks. "These guys came to help, and they don't deserve that."

According to Austin Energy, the estimated date for power restoration to "nearly all remaining customers" is Sunday, Feb. 12.

Padgett said they decided to finally get a hotel when they heard how much longer it could be.

"When we first tried to give an estimate of the timeline for restoration, we hadn't been out to be able to fully patrol all the areas and fully understand the extent of the damage," said Sargent. "In this event, there were multiple impacts to circuits, so it wasn’t just, go out and remove this impediment."

They are also taking into account anticipated rain and wind which may slow things down.

"I’m nervous that the wind is going to pull this line even further, cause some kind of spark and my house could burn down," said Padgett. 

She’s keeping her dog and two-year-old inside while she waits for the crew to show up that was assigned to her on Thursday, according to a text she received from Austin Energy.

"At least look at the wire and let us know if it’s safe, or if we need to be constantly worried about it," she asked.

Monday morning, Mayor Kirk Watson announced that he had added an emergency item to Thursday’s city council agenda to "evaluate the employment of City Manager Spencer Cronk" in regard to the handling of the storm. Cronk did not comment on the upcoming item at Monday’s press conference.