Rolling outages affect most chilly Texans all day

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Associated Press

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 1:25 AM

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A high power demand in the wake of a
massive ice storm caused rolling outages for more than eight hours
Wednesday across most of Texas, resulting in signal-less
intersections, coffee houses with no morning java and some people
stuck in elevators.

The temporary outages started about 5:30 a.m. and ended in the
afternoon, but "there is a strong possibility that they will be
required again this evening or tomorrow, depending on how quickly
the disabled generation units can be returned to service," the
chief operator of Texas' power grid said in a release.
  
Because of the problems, Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission
agreed to transmit 280 megawatts of electricity to Texas between
Wednesday and Thursday night. The electricity will be transmitted
at interconnection points in Nuevo Laredo -- across the border from
Laredo, Texas -- and Piedras Negras, which sits opposite of Eagle
Pass, Texas, the commission said in a statement.
  
The outages lasted from 10 to 45 minutes or longer in each
affected neighborhood and did not include hospitals and nursing
homes in Texas. Temperatures were in the teens and 20s across much
of the state.
  
Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, home of Sunday's Super Bowl, also
was exempt from the outages, said Jeamy Molina, a spokeswoman for
Oncor, which supplies electricity to 7 million consumers.
  
Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry urged businesses and
residents to conserve electricity during the "unprecedented demand
on the state's energy grid." The massive storm more than 2,000
miles long hit Texas early Tuesday and barreled through the
nation's midsection on its way to the Northeast, leaving vast
swaths from Chicago to New York paralyzed by snow and ice,
stranding hundreds of motorists and shuttering airports and
schools.
  
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday evening that cold weather
had knocked out about 50 of the 550 power plants in Texas, totaling
8,000 megawatts, and there also was an increase in demand.
 
 "Lack of adequate winterization and preparation appear to be a
major cause of the outages," he said in a statement. "This is
unusually cold weather for Texas, but we obviously need to ensure
that we are adequately prepared. That's why we will continue to
work with state agencies and energy providers to find out where
problems occurred and how to prevent them in the future."
  
Dewhurst previously said the demand placed on the Texas grid was
nowhere near peak capacity, and the rolling outages were caused
when two coal-fired power plants had to shut down because of burst
water pipes.
  
Hotels in downtown Dallas, where many fans are flocking in the
run-up to the big game, were not affected by the controlled outages
because they have a special hookup to the power grid, said Frank
Librio, a spokesman for the city of Dallas.
  
The hotels where the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh
Steelers are staying have backup generators, said Larry Auth, a
spokesman for Omni hotels. The NFL said some hotels the league is
using had "brief but expected" outages that caused no problems.
  
But that wasn't the case at other hotels in North Texas. Bill
Bunce, general manager of the Sheraton Dallas North, said some
guests panicked when the electricity went out, while others took
the loss of their Internet connections, lights and heat in stride.
  
"We go into 'all hands on deck' mode and grab our
flashlights," he said, adding that the situation could have been
worse. "If it was during the Super Bowl with a full house
(expected Thursday), it wouldn't have been pretty."
  
James Howland, 50, said the power went off in his Corsicana
neighborhood for about 20 minutes at time every hour starting about
8 a.m. Wednesday. It was more of a nuisance than anything, said
Howland, who is disabled and spends most of his time reading and
online at his home about 50 miles southeast of Dallas.
  
"It's colder than all get-out," said Howland, wrapped in extra
blankets.
  
Some schools in Houston, the state's largest school district
with more than 200,000 students, briefly were in the dark Wednesday
morning. Classes were not canceled, said school district spokesman
Norm Uhl.
  
Elizabeth Tosh got stuck in an elevator in a Houston office
building for 45 minutes during the second outage of the day
Wednesday. She and a co-worker spent about two minutes in the dark
before the emergency lights kicked on, Tosh said. Then they began
pressing buttons and emergency button for about 30 minutes until
they managed to contact the building personnel.
  
Tosh said she and her colleague laughed and joked and were glad
they had snacks with them. But after the elevator finally started
moving and the pair exited into the lobby, she decided not to join
him as he started walking toward another elevator.
  
"I'm not riding with you," she quipped.
 
 "Smart choice," he answered.
  
Bianca Aviles, who works at a Starbucks in Houston, said she
could only sell the coffee that was already made Wednesday morning
because power outages prevented her from brewing more. She also had
to do all transactions manually because the cash registers would
not work.
  
The decision was announced early Wednesday that utilities
operating as part of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or
ERCOT, were required to start the outages to compensate for
shortages caused by the high power demand. The outages affect the
state's largest cities, including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San
Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Abilene and the Rio Grande Valley
-- more than three-fourths of the state.
  
One of the failed coal plants Dewhurst mentioned, Oak Grove, is
a 1,600-megawatt facility that is among the largest in Texas and
began operations only in the last few years. Frigid temperatures
overnight caused some portion of the pipeline to fail but the
company is still trying to identify the damage, said Allan Koenig,
a spokesman for Luminant Generation Co., which operates the plant.
  
The El Paso area was not affected by the rolling outages but had
record-low single-digit temperatures and snowfall. The high-profile
trial of a Cuba-born former CIA operative accused of lying to U.S.
authorities during an immigration hearing was suspended Wednesday
because the Texas courthouse closed due to snow.
  
In addition to the rolling outages, thousands of Texans remained
without power in the wake of the ice storm, and hundreds of schools
were closed, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. About 150
flights were canceled Wednesday at Dallas-Fort Worth International
Airport, said David Magana, an airport spokesman.
 

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