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PEC calls recent ice storm historic, expensive

Ice storm in Liberty Hill

A Pedernales Electric Cooperative power pole in Liberty Hill near Lake Georgetown collapsed under the weight of ice during Winter Storm Mara, which hit Texas in the first week of February. PEC officials said damage to its system during the three-day ice storm was 'extensive, widespread, and historic.' Courtesy photo

The early February ice storm could cost Pedernales Electric Cooperative upward of $13 million in infrastructure damages compared to Winter Storm Uri two years ago, which resulted in $10 million in infrastructure damages. Uri cost $160 million more in power costs, however, making it costlier overall.

All of the numbers are not yet in, said co-op Chief Financial Officer Randy Kruger, but should be available by the PEC Board of Directors meeting on March 24. 

“This storm will be more expensive,” Kruger told board members at their Feb. 17 meeting. “The damage done to the system was more extensive and recovery costs will be higher.” 

After-action items on which PEC plans to focus in the aftermath of Winter Storm Mara include vegetation management, which was improved after the 2021 storm, and upgrading the outage map used to communicate with co-op members, staff reported to the board.

The ice storm lasted from Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, but the PEC system is still in recovery mode, reported Chief Operating Officer Eddie Dauterive.

“Recovery this time is more of a construction effort rather than a restoration effort like with Uri,” he said, referring to the winter storm that struck Texas in February 2021. Outages then were caused by mandates from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for regional brownouts and blackouts to protect the state’s grid system. 

PEC instituted a Temporary Winter Storm Surcharge on members’ bills starting in September 2021 to help pay for the cost of Uri. The co-op expects to remove that surcharge in September 2023, when the debt is paid off.

“Keep in mind, expenses from Winter Storm Uri were due to very high energy costs on the wholesale market,” reads a written statement from PEC in response to a question from about whether the most recent ice storm could also result in a surcharge. “Costs related to Winter Storm Mara would be for labor and material expenses due to damaged distribution infrastructure. PEC is still (gathering) expenses from Winter Storm Mara and no storm-related rate increases are being considered at this time.”

The cooperative suffered three times the amount of pole damage as the last ice storm of this magnitude, which was in 1997, said CEO Julie Parsley.

“This is the strongest ice storm we have seen,” she said. “Our system is significantly stronger and better built now than in 1997, and it took more damage.” 

Although damage was system-wide, the worst was seen in the Cedar Park, Oak Hill, Henley, Blanco, and Canyon Lake areas. The Highland Lakes suffered outages in the Bertram area but did not receive as much ice or damage as areas to the east.

Oak Hill lost four power poles in 1997. Winter Storm Mara took down 98. 

Vegetation management crews joined linemen in the field as they worked to repair power lines downed by ice-laden tree limbs breaking off from their trunks. Ice accumulations were from one-half of an inch to three-fourths of an inch in parts of Central Texas. 

According to weather reports, one-half of an inch of ice on power lines weighs 500 pounds; one-half of an inch of ice on a 30-foot tree canopy equals 7,125 pounds. 

Falling branches were not the only cause of power outages, Dauterive said.Lines went down that were nowhere near trees. 

The primary after-action item listed in the staff report to the board was to improve the outage map. 

The PEC outage map is built to automatically calculate Estimated Time for Restoration based on historical data. When additional work beyond normal is required to fix an outage, staff must manually enter restoration times, Parsley explained. 

“Overall, we had 98,000 locations out — that’s a third of the system,” she said. 

Working with district field operations, PEC was able to establish broad ETRs for large outages, adding these updates online and texting updates to members. 

“There are some lessons learned, but that was some really great work our folks did,” Parsley continued. 

The Board of Directors gave both the communications staff and line crews rounds of applause for working around the clock during the storm. 

“To realize what the men and women here did for this co-op is commendable,” Board President Mark Ekrut said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these people.

PEC might be able to recoup some of the costs of recovery from state and federal emergency service funds. 

“We won’t know until we get into the process,” Dauterive said.

1 thought on “PEC calls recent ice storm historic, expensive

  1. PEC Damage Control hard at work.

    The next thing you know we’ll be convinced the storm was our fault and we’ll be asked to bail their poor planning tails out. Again!

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