AUSTIN (KXAN) — As summer-like heat continues, you definitely don’t want to lose your air conditioning for hours at a time.
However, that’s what exactly what happened to some Austinites on Saturday. Approximately 3,600 Austin Energy customers in south Austin were left without power for four hours.
AE attributed the outage to “a heat-related demand surge and ongoing construction on a new substation.” The outage was not the result of a mandate issued by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, AE added.
“The circuits serving this area were experiencing high energy use and this action was taken to address that overload. These actions were not the result of an ERCOT mandate but instead were necessary to safely operate Austin Energy’s distribution system,” the statement read in part.
This resulted in a temporary pause of power at its Slaughter Lane substation around 3:45 p.m. on Saturday.
“If we had the ability to give notice we would have,” Austin Energy vice president of field operations Elton Richards said. “The bad thing was we couldn’t get that executed fast enough to stop the emergency outage.”
This left thousands in south Austin sweating it out, with temperatures peaking in the high 90s.
“With the loading on that line, we were putting that substation at risk and all the other customers in that area at risk,” Richards said.
Power came back online around 7:45 p.m. Saturday night.
Local energy expert Scott Nguyen — an energy transition fellow at UT and CEO of solar software company Bodhi — believes that things could have been much worse if the power was kept on.
“Rather than the fuse simply tripping, there would have been substantial damage,” he said. “Which would have cost millions of dollars to fix but also lead to even longer delays.”
“It would’ve gone from the 3,500 hundred customers to 7,000 customers to 10,000 customers without power,” Richards added.
AE delivered text alerts to customers signed up for the service, yet didn’t post any messages to their social media account during the brief power outage.
“For some folks, they need that electricity for medical devices,” Nguyen said. “Also for refrigeration to keep critical items powered on or even cool.”
AE says its Bluff Springs substation will be complete by Friday when it originally expected temperatures to rise in Austin.
This will finalize a triangular circuit of three substations — Slaughter Lane, Bluff Springs and High Cross — in the south Austin area.
“You’ll have a trifecta in a booming area,” Richards said. “That way we can distribute the load equally.
As the weather warms up, Nguyen thinks that more power outages could transpire.
“Austin Energy really can’t predict this weather and with climate change, we’re going to see a lot more of these extreme weather events,” he concluded.
In anticipation of the heat this weekend, the City of Austin made local libraries available as cooling stations.