CenterPoint ends rolling outages; more than 140,000 still without power

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by Associated Press & khou.com staff

khou.com

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 8:06 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 2 at 11:25 PM

HOUSTON—CenterPoint Energy has ended rolling outages that left many without power Wednesday. By 7:30 p.m., more than 140,000 customers were still powerless.

In many cases, ice on power lines and falling tree branches were to blame for unplanned outages.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) ordered the rolling outages early Wednesday after burst water pipes at two coal-fired power plants forced them to shut down.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this is something that "should not happen."

Dewhurst said he was told that water pipes at two plants forced them to cut electricity production. Natural gas power plants that should have provided back up had difficulty starting due to low pressure in the supply lines, also caused by the cold weather.

The lieutenant governor said the demand placed on the Texas grid was nowhere near peak capacity. He said he was frustrated by the situation.

Rotating outages are controlled, temporary interruptions of electric service, typically lasting 10-45 minutes per neighborhood. The locations and durations are determined by the local utilities. Critical need customers such as hospitals and nursing homes are generally not included.

But some Houston-area residents said they had multiple blackouts Wednesday.

Ruth Villarreal, who was caring for a sick child and her 86-year-old mother at her home in the Glenberg Valley subdivision, said they lost power four times in under five hours.

During each outage, she said the temperature dropped 10 degrees in her home.

"As a person gets old like myself, you’ve got to keep warm or your bones are telling you, ‘Hey! It’s too cold,’" Villarreal’s mother, Isabelle Nunouz, said.

"It doesn’t seem right," Villarreal said of the multiple outages. "We’re just trying to get off the grid here for a little bit and let somebody else have a turn at it."

But CenterPoint said that, unfortunately, losing power two, three or four times wasn’t out of the question for some area residents.

They were just complying with ERCOT’s mandate.

"The customers we’re bringing offline depends on the amount ERCOT is directing us to shed, which can change throughout the day," CenterPoint spokesperson Alicia Dixon said.

Dixon said with each outage, they brought down about 300,000 customers.

But if high demand puts the Texas electric grid at risk again, ERCOT could direct CenterPoint to resume rolling outages. As a result, CenterPoint was asking customers to take energy conservation measures including:

Turning down electric furnace/heater thermostats to 68 degrees or lower

Limiting the use of electric appliances to only those that are needed most and avoid performing non-essential chores such as laundry and running the dishwasher.

Reducing the opening and closing refrigerators, freezers and doors.

Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.

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