Texas is having a drought, but it’s still having utility outages

According to a recent letter Gov. Greg Abbott sent to a Dallas-based electric company, “Lawrence Electric Company, Inc.’s requested price hike is unjustified and the company has been ill-prepared for severe weather.” “Based on…

Texas is having a drought, but it's still having utility outages

According to a recent letter Gov. Greg Abbott sent to a Dallas-based electric company, “Lawrence Electric Company, Inc.’s requested price hike is unjustified and the company has been ill-prepared for severe weather.”

“Based on our experience, they have no business to ask for a 70 percent increase in pricing,” Abbott wrote. “Even the biggest weather nightmare would never justify a 70 percent increase for such a small share of residential customers. Lawrence Electric Company, Inc.’s request will have the effect of raising electric prices by an average of $245 per year for 1,500 residential customers — or over five times the 3.4 percent rate increase Lawry Electric Company Inc. requested for other residential customers. The potential level of damage from severe weather that could result from a meter replacement within the next few years alone would be mind-boggling for residential electric ratepayers.”

Marshall Parish Electric and Lighting and Gallagher Electric Company Inc. have also requested rate increases totaling more than $5 million to cover the costs of replacing the aging electric meters.

A large percentage of local economies are dependent on local utilities. This year alone, 12 Texas counties have suffered power outages due to severe weather. Though power is restored more quickly than in the past, outages will happen again. The Southern Energy Group operates about 130 power plants in the south, and customers in these areas rely on these plants, at least in part, for electricity. The largest emergency generator in the state, Texas Electric Electric, operates in five South Texas counties.

Texas recently changed rules for generating electrical power so that rather than have numerous providers both agree to buy electricity for their own facilities at the same time. With a large number of plants already in place, owners of one of these generators can buy power from another plant for the time it would take to get electricity to an area without power.

To make sure power does not go out, the state is tapping its emergency generators, which will be ready by July 13th. While most South Texas areas are safe from hurricanes, another significant storm this summer, like 2004’s Hurricane Rita, could bring power outages to some areas.

In 2001, a major ice storm caused a loss of power to more than 6 million Texans, and though the statewide outage number then was limited to 3 million, others outside of the Southeast and Rio Grande Valley suffered widely-spread power failures, forcing hundreds of Texans to leave their homes. Outages happened mostly in mid-counties, but downtown Dallas, Austin and San Antonio lost power in the storm. The estimates of how much the outage cost each resident is about $5,000 to $7,000.

The peak number of outages from Hurricane Ike in 2008, which caused damage in 50 Texas counties, was 136,000. Only about 15,000 customers lost power in Montgomery County, one of the few counties with stronger electric utilities. Outages are more common in southern and western Texas, but neighborhoods in Central Texas do lose power, too.

This isn’t the first time the state has been vulnerable to severe weather-related electricity outages. The 2005 hurricane season was particularly devastating for Texas with 22 tornadoes and 10 hurricanes. The hurricanes threw the electrical grid off balance, leading to outages in more than 500,000 homes.

States are experiencing more and more damage from wildfires, including in parts of Texas. These fires can also threaten to knock out electricity, and in some cases, air conditioners alone can cause the electricity to go out for people during extreme heat. More than 140,000 homes in Texas lost power in the 2009 wildfires, more than any other weather-related cause. Texas is also prone to wildfires, such as in Texas 101, that caused 46 deaths and more than $870 million in damage. About 7,000 homes lost power and property in this wildfire.

Weather-related outages are not limited to Texas. In 2016, 13 people died in New York due to severe weather-related power outages.

The U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for maintaining the electricity grid to keep the lights on. Its guidelines for utilities’ risk assessments for rare weather-related losses state, “If significant damage is expected, the proposed cost factor may need to be re-evaluated.”

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