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Be prepared for winter weather

Iced-over Pedernales Electric Cooperative transformers and power lines in February 2021

Iced-over Pedernales Electric Cooperative transformers and power lines during the big freeze and snowstorm in February 2021. The co-op has been weatherizing its system by trimming trees away from power lines, changing out old equipment, and upgrading rolling blackout and communication procedures. Photo courtesy of PEC

The four major providers of electricity to the Highland Lakes have been busy the past 11 months repairing and preparing their systems to better prevent power outages like those suffered statewide during a major winter storm Feb. 13-17, 2021.

“This was the most significant power supply and weather event this co-op has ever faced, and I think we learned a tremendous amount just by going through that,” Eddie Dauterive, chief operations officer of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, told board members at their regular meeting Nov. 19.

PEC General Manager Julie Parsley had her own take on February’s “snowmaggedon.” 

“All 254 Texas counties were under a weather alert,” she said at the meeting. “Four-point-five million Texans were without power. The grid was overwhelmed. Nobody has seen anything like it in our lifetime, and we hope we don’t ever see anything like it again.”  

Just in case, the PEC and the Lower Colorado River Authority both spent the 10 months following the storm weatherizing generation and transmission systems and trimming trees away from power lines. Downed trees caused most of the damage to power lines in the PEC service area, Dauterive reported. 

PEC employees met with representatives from the LCRA on Dec. 2 for an Emergency Operations Plan drill to test the new systems put in place. 

The LCRA has improved its fuel risk management system since the storm. Fuel was in short supply and prices escalated last February as power plants shut down from the cold. 

Burnet, which owns its distribution system and buys power from the LCRA, has had some trouble with its plans to replace reclosers on local power lines. The reclosers, which will give the city more flexibility in keeping service going during outages and allow workers to restore service more quickly, are on backorder due to pandemic supply chain issues, according to City Manager David Vaughn. 

Meanwhile, the city bought equipment to spread salt and magnesium on major roads and driveways, such as the ingress and egress to Ascension Seton Highland Lakes hospital. An engineer established specifications for where to put generators to keep critical water facilities online in case of more power outages. 

“We are very blessed with both groundwater and surface water supplies that give us multiple options to continue to provide service to our customers,” Vaughn told The Picayune Magazine. 

Central Texas Electric Cooperative, which provides power to Llano County, among others, reviewed and updated its Emergency Operations Plan for quicker action in case of a repeat winter storm. Most of the Kingsland outages happened due to requirements from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the transmission grid operator for 75 percent of the state. ERCOT came under such intense criticism over the storm that Gov. Greg Abbott replaced the entire board of directors. New regulations and mandates to weatherize the state’s grid system were approved by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by the governor. New laws also address supply chain issues and require power plants be protected from the cold.

Locally, CTEC has done its part by upgrading its distribution electric system to increase capabilities during extreme demand, including completion of a substation and system upgrade in the Llano area. A substation transformer replaced one that failed at the Bluffton substation during the storm. 

Both the PEC and CTEC have launched SmartHub apps to provide members with quick access for reporting and tracking outages around the clock. To download the app on a smartphone, visit pec.coop/your-service/billing-payments/smarthub or ctec.coop/smarthub

While those in charge of providing electricity weatherize for the big picture, Highland Lakes residents should work on the small stuff. See the checklist on the next page for what to do now, just before a storm, and during a storm. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com

WINTER PREPAREDNESS CHECKLISTS

A repeat of the extreme snow and ice storms of February 2021 is unlikely in 2022, according to weather experts, but the electric utility companies we pay to keep us warm are taking precautions anyway. So should you.

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative launched a winter preparedness webpage that includes a couple of checklists. We created a one-page version of some of the main points for ease of use. For a complete list, visit pec.coop/safety/winter-preparedness.

WHAT TO DO NOW

Prepare an emergency kit with the following items: 

  • flashlights and batteries
  • bottled water
  • nonperishable food
  • blankets
  • matches
  • first-aid supplies
  • medications (over-the-counter and prescription)
  • pet supplies
  • battery banks for charging devices
  • all-weather radio
  • multipurpose tool
  • air-activated heat packs
  • hand sanitizer
  • list of important numbers, including to your electric supplier

WHAT TO DO JUST BEFORE A STORM

Once cold weather has been forecast, you should: 

  • charge cellphones and provide extra cords for charging phones, tablets, and other electronic devices
  • stock additional firewood
  • dig out coats, hats, gloves, and warm clothing
  • check the condition of additional heating sources
  • stock extra fuel for vehicles
  • insulate external water lines on your water heater
  • remove and store garden hoses
  • cover exposed water lines and spigots
  • trim trees close enough to damage your home. NOTE: Never trim trees that come within 10 feet of power lines yourself! Contact your power supplier to trim those trees. 
  • check the weatherstripping on your windows and doors and seal leaks with caulk or replacement stripping 
  • develop a plan in case of prolonged outages, including where and when to seek shelter if needed

DURING A STORM 

Protect your home with these tips:

  • Keep faucets on a slow drip to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Catch the dripping water in a clean container, sink, or tub for use in toilets or washing.
  • If pipes freeze, turn off the main water supply to prevent further damage.
  • Set thermostats to 68 degrees.
  • Keep drapes and blinds closed, except when windows are in direct sunlight.
  • Close doors to unoccupied rooms to warm your home more quickly.
  • In the event of an outage, turn off lights and appliances to avoid overloading circuits when power is restored. Leave only one light on as a signal that power is restored.

Remember these important winter storm safety tips:

  • Don’t use stoves or ovens for heat. Gas stoves and ovens produce carbon monoxide, and electric ones pose a fire risk when not used as designed.
  • Never run a generator closer than 20 feet from doors and windows to prevent fumes from entering the home.

EMERGENCY NUMBERS

  • Pedernales Electric Cooperative: 888-883-3379
  • Burnet City Electric: 512-756-6093; after hours 830-798-4775
  • Central Texas Electric Cooperative: 800-900-2832