AUSTIN (KXAN) — We’re breaking heat records with more on the way, and it’s prompting some to prepare for the worst: power outages.
Monday’s high of 109º made the top-10 list for hottest days ever, coming in at No. 8.
No relief is expected Tuesday, either. Temperatures could hit 110º with a heat index of 112º in the Austin metro area.
The evening rain followed by cloud cover brought a brief respite from the heat for many like Daniel Feltsman and his son.
“We spent mostly today [Monday] inside, because it was deathly hot. And now that it’s cloudy, we decided to come out and spend some time here, and we’re on our way to Barton Creek,” Feltsman said.
Isamar Hernandez, visiting from Florida, enjoyed frozen yogurt at Vic Mathias Shores after having to cut her activity short.
“I’m just like, ‘I’m coming from Florida. It’s 105 out here. It can’t be that bad,” she said. “We couldn’t finish the hike. We had to turn back around,” she said. “I felt like my organs were shutting down. That’s what I told my friend.”
An Excessive Heat Warning has now been extended into Tuesday evening, and as people crank up the air to stay cool, there’s a fear of possible controlled power outages, better known as rolling blackouts.
“Right now, when there’s a threat of potentially an outage, we’re really concerned about communication and cooling centers and transportation to cooling centers,” said Brittany Baize, Family Eldercare spokesperson.
Austin Energy said if the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asks it to cut power to some areas due to high demand, the outages should be short but can last longer depending on how much energy is being delivered to the grid and other conditions.
Baize advocates for city and state leaders to communicate incoming outages like that as early as possible.
“If you’re talking about older adults… or folks whose communication platforms may not be consistent, we need time to get in touch with clients,” she said.
Baize said they work with thousands of clients and are doing the best they can now to prepare.
“Keeping our lines of communication open to make sure that folks can get to where they need to, and make arrangements to make sure they have access to water, they have access to a cooling center,” she explained.
But in an email to KXAN, Austin Energy said if it’s asked to cut power, ERCOT’s notice “will come within minutes of needing to take action.”
Baize said even a 48-hour notice would help them rally.
“We really hope this is not a disaster situation that this can instead be an extreme heat situation,” she said. “We’ve got the information that we need, and we can make sure clients have access to water, they have access to cooling centers, they have access to transportation. That takes things down a notch from a disaster into, ‘This is critical, but it can be handled.'”
KXAN is teaming up with Family Eldercare for their summer fan drive to help folks stay cool while they do still have power.
Baize said folks who donate can also check the box to have a portion of their gift go farther than the fans. She said most of their clients are on a fixed income, and because of high gas prices and inflation, an increasing number of them need more help than fans — for example, utility help.
ERCOT told KXAN Monday despite issuing a “conservation appeal,” it doesn’t expect an emergency situation that would result in mandated controlled power outages.
“At this time, we do not anticipate that happening. We are not in an emergency situation at this time. Our control room officially issued a watch, but we are not in an emergency/Energy Emergency Alert status. We have asked for a voluntary reduction of use at this time,” an ERCOT spokesperson said Monday.
ERCOT’s appeal came Sunday evening, asking Texans to voluntarily conserve energy Monday during peak usage hours, between 2 and 8 p.m.
Hernandez leaves town Tuesday morning.
“I might consider like looking at the weather a little bit before I go for the next time to see if it’s gonna be 115º. But besides that, I’ll definitely come back,” she said.
“It’s pretty friggin’ hot. It’s pretty bad,” Feltsman said. He is also skipping town for the next month and a half.
“Part of it is because the heat, part of it because I want to spend some time traveling with my son,” he said.
February 2021 winter storm outages
You’ll remember ERCOT initiated what was supposed to be controlled power outages during the February 2021 winter storm.
Certain critical customers are exempt from those, and that’s also the case when there are controlled outages for extreme heat.
Austin Energy explained to KXAN back then Tier 1 customers included hospitals, control centers, 911, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, water and wastewater plants and telecommunications.
They noted each of those customers shares a circuit with other commercial and residential customers and, because of how interconnected those networks are, Austin Energy couldn’t cut off power to empty office buildings without cutting supply to the other critical facilities.