POWER: Austin Energy turning power back on for thousands

Austin
Austin Energy power box

Austin Energy power box in the snow in southwest Austin (KXAN/Alyssa Goard)

Latest numbers of people without power as of 4 p.m.:

Austin Energy – 157,478 customers
Oncor – 40,009 customers without power in Central Texas
Pedernales Electric Cooperative – UNAVAILABLE
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative – 10,454 customers without power in Central Texas
Central Texas Electric Cooperative – 16,629 customers without power in Central Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Energy says ERCOT will allow it to restore 16 circuits in its service area, bringing back power to thousands of customers. Still, it warned that power would not stay on, and most of those still in the dark will need to prepare to be without power for the rest of the day Wednesday and possibly longer.

Austin Energy asks that when the power does return that people do not rush to crank up their thermostat or turn on all their lights. They say those who get power back need to wait to allow the circuit time to power up completely. If they don’t, it could cause a second outage.

Once this so-called “cold load pickup” stabilizes — which means turning back on circuits and overcoming that rush of new power usage — Austin Energy could then begin rotating the outages. Currently there is no outage rotation on the Austin Energy power grid because it does not yet have enough grid stability.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Austin Energy did restore power for nearly 15,000 people. It says this was primarily from fixing infrastructure outages caused due to the Wednesday morning ice storm.

Austin Energy says it must keep the power out for many people again Wednesday to help maintain ERCOT’s electric grid.

On Wednesday night, Austin Energy said it is not currently doing rotating outages, but restored circuits could be rotated depending on ERCOT’s requests overnight. Customers who get power back should expect to be without it for about 10 minutes during a rotation, the company said. How many circuits able to come back online will determine how long the rotation comes back to you.

Due to the prolonged outage, Austin Energy is urging people to prioritize their safety and family and head to one of the City of Austin’s warming shelters. If you need transportation you can call 311.

We’ve compiled a list of those shelters to help you find a warming center near you and your family.

Oncor also warning customers it could be without power for an extended time

Oncor said power outages will continue to be extensive due to the ongoing power grid issues with ERCOT. It says thanks to slightly warmer weather and lower demand overnight, it was able to turn the power back on for some households.

“We continue to strive toward providing any temporary relief that we can for those who have been without power the longest as soon as enough generation is available,” Oncor said in a statement.

It added that it was continuing to have additional problems due to the ice storm and it’s now “actively engaged in restoration efforts.”

“These personnel are well experienced in working in extreme weather conditions and will be working around the clock to assess damages, clear debris and repair damaged equipment,” Oncor said.

Why has Austin Energy kept power on in downtown Austin?

Austin Energy has gotten a lot of questions about why it has chosen to keep the power on in downtown Austin through the entirety of the controlled outages. Here is the reason:

“The downtown network is excluded for now from load shedding (power outages) during controlled outages mandated by ERCOT. This is a complicated, inter-connected network which includes critical buildings like the Dell Seton Medical Center, warming centers, the COVID-19 Alternate Care Site, Capitol Complex and Austin City Hall, as well as other critical infrastructure and government buildings. Shutting down the downtown network would also cut off electricity to these critical buildings, which may also house vital communications equipment.

“Austin Energy is working with the Building Owners & Managers Association and the Downtown Austin Alliance in asking their members to curtail non-essential power use.”

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