Among the many lessons Pedernales Electric Cooperative officials learned during the unprecedented winter storm Feb. 14-18 is the need for better communication. That’s according to Chief Operating Officer Eddie Dauterive, who addressed the Horseshoe Bay City Council during its regular meeting March 16.
Dauterive, along with PEC Vice President of Operations Virgil Maldonado and Director of Regional Operations for Marble Falls Nathan Burns, accepted an invitation from Horseshoe Bay city leaders to attend and speak during the meeting.
“I’ve been with the cooperative for 21 years. We’ve never had anything of this magnitude,” Dauterive said. “We were dealing with internal systems and telecommunication failures.”
Strengthening the relationships with PEC community municipalities is a huge priority, he added.
Mayor Cynthia Clinesmith asked the PEC representatives why electricity at her home was going out every six minutes while the lights stayed on at City Manager Stan Farmer’s house.
The reason, according to PEC, is it started upgrading a small transformer in Horseshoe Bay in early February to prepare for summer vacation season. Before the storm, PEC workers tested a larger transformer and determined it was enough to power the community until the smaller transformer’s upgrade could be completed.
The extraordinary plunge in temperatures coupled with the rise in demand for more electricity caused what is known as “blinking” throughout the system. Blinking happens when the lines are overloaded. It is a built-in precautionary measure to ensure the transformer feeds don’t completely fail. The result was six-minute and 10-minute interruptions in some parts of Horseshoe Bay.
Clinesmith said she and other city officials would like to have that kind of information before a big storm happens.
“It was not being informed, that was our biggest letdown,” the mayor said. “The transformer was being upgraded to prepare us for summer overload. Had we known that, we could have gotten that information out. We don’t believe for a minute you were sitting back on your heels not serving us.”
Dauterive further explained that, during a load-shedding event, PEC is obligated to take a certain number of feeders offline. Others are listed under critical loads, and PEC is figuring out how best to serve them, he added. Horseshoe Bay, however, wasn’t part of the load-shedding.
“We had to take some things down and balance as well as we could,” said Dauterive, adding that PEC now has a better understanding of the locations of Horseshoe Bay’s first responders and utility facilities.
That’s important, Clinesmith said, because electricity ensures the water treatment plant continues to operate nonstop. Once power began blinking on and off, the city’s water plants were in trouble.
“It takes approximately 45 minutes to start up and set the facilities’ parameters to ensure the water quality is safe and adequate to serve our customers,” said Horseshoe Bay Utilities Director Jeff Koska.
He noted that one water treatment plant has an automatic emergency generator, but the facility had to be without power for 10 seconds for it turn on to ensure equipment wasn’t damaged. Instead, the electricity would be off for three seconds, Koska said.
By Feb. 16, Koska and Farmer switched to emergency generator power, which forced plant operators to switch automated systems to manual. That night, water levels dipped to critical levels because water production was at 50 percent and broken water pipes in homes and irrigation systems that were not turned off added to the demand. That was apparent the morning of Feb. 17, when Horseshoe Bay city staff responded to more than 2,000 service calls.
City Hall, the police station, and Fire Station 1 weren’t spared, the mayor said.
“Losing electricity is one thing in the freezing cold,” Clinesmith said. “And then, we lost water to our fire department and police department.”
“We have learned a tremendous amount of things,” Dauterive told the council. “We’ll have preparations in place earlier (next time).”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Eddie Dauterive as the CEO of Pedernales Electric Cooperative. He is actually the chief operating officer. DailyTrib.com apologizes for the error.