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San Antonio

San Antonio's Controlled Blackouts End, Hundreds Still Without Power; Unknown Number Without Water

CPS Energy crews repair equipment damage after three days of controlled blackouts February 18, 2021.
CPS Energy | Provided
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CPS Energy crews repair equipment damage on Feb. 18 after three days of controlled blackouts.

CPS Energy reported on Friday that less than 400 customers were without power, and crews were working to quickly restore service within the next 24 hours.

"We are coming out of this," said Paula Gold-Williams, the president and CEO of CPS Energy. "We are still not out — conservation, conservation, conservation."

She added that CPS was working on a plan to limit major financial burdens to its customers.

"We are committing to the community to do everything we can to minimize the impact of that, to spread it out, to find ways to to push the costs out through financing mechanisms and things like that," she explained. "We will come forward with a proposal to the board and council on it and explain it to to you as we get more things developed."

She said the plan could involve spreading those costs out to 10 years or longer.

The progress report came a day after CPS ended controlled outages, as authorized by ERCOT, the state grid operator.

CPS Energy leaders said road conditions on Thursday night could slow repairs. By Friday morning, the sun was shining and snow was melting.

But despite the optimism, CPS officials remained cautious regarding the state’s fragile energy grid.

“There is a possibility that we could go back to forced outages if we can't keep this condition under control as a state,” Gold-Williams said on Thursday. “We're 7% of the total generation production, so it's important that we do our part (to keep energy demand low).”


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“When your power does come back on, if you can, remember to try to bring on the equipment in your home that is most needed,” said Rudy Garza, CPS Energy’s Chief Customer Engagement Officer. “Do it slowly, in a thoughtful manner, so we can maintain your service and not overload the system.”

Water

During a CPS Energy media briefing Thursday morning, Garza said power had been restored to most of the San Antonio Water System’s pumps.

Most water outages are concentrated along Loop 1604 in North and South Bexar County, but officials with SAWS said other parts of San Antonio experienced outages or low pressure caused by broken pipes and days with limited pumping stations.

A letter sent to the Inspire Downtown apartment said high-rise complexes are more likely to experience outages because more pressure is needed for water to reach them.

An update released by SAWS officials Thursday evening said customers could expect service to be restored sometime between Thursday night and Monday. An estimated timeline by neighborhood is available here.

SAWS issued a voluntary boil notice Wednesday, which remains in effect.

However, it also opened water distribution centers at pump stations across the city starting Friday. Residents must bring their own jugs, and there is a 5-gallon limit per vehicle.

The hours are Friday from noon to 6 p.m., and from every day moving forward from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until further notice.

Days of Confusion, Fear and Anger

2-18PhillipsF1EmergencyCouncilWeb.mp3
TPR's Camille Phillips reports on an emergency city council meeting held Wednesday with the executives of the city-owned utilities.

The restoration of power on Thursday and Friday followed days without power and water. At times, 30% of Bexar County residents had no water and 40% had no power.

The San Antonio City Council held an emergency meeting with the executives of the city-owned water and power companies Wednesday to find out why the outages were lasting so long and what could be done about it.

Just like everyone else in San Antonio, council members were angry, and they wanted answers.

Shirley Gonzales said she had “never heard so many cries for help” in all of her years on the council. Clayton Perry called the crisis a “train wreck” that everyone should have seen coming.

“We have residents that have been without water or electricity for four days. Four days. Not on a rolling, not on a temporary, not on, 'We might put you back on.' No, they're out. They are in a black out,” said Jada Andrews-Sullivan, who represents District 2 on the East Side.

The CPS Energy and SAWS executives didn’t always have clear answers — and they sometimes gave answers that didn’t really answer the question. Some answers conflicted with answers they gave the day before.

Gold-Williams said the flickers of power many households were seeing was a sign the algorithm controlling the outages was failing.

“We need so much capacity off the system, we are taking it manual and we're taking more people offline because we have to,” she said during Tuesday’s briefing.

During the council meeting Wednesday, Garza said the flickers were a sign power was trying to come on.

“In some cases, we've had a hard time getting some of those systems back up, because all the heaters are coming on at the same time,” Garza said. “They overload the system, and they bring it right back down.”

The executives ended the council meeting with a promise that they would work with the city to improve communication to the public.

During a press conference on Friday, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness did not directly answer a question about whether the operator of the state electric grid accepted the reality and consequences of climate change -- particularly the risk of much more intense weather events.

But he did say ERCOT would review its seasonal assessment process in light of this record-breaking storm.

"That certainly sets a new standard," he said. "And then I think we'll be looking at those estimation processes in general. I mean, as we sort of go back and say, 'you know, what, what can we do to recognize what we saw here?' And how does that inform the way that we provide the information that we want to be as reliable as possible, as meaningful as possible, but also take into account potential extremes?"

ERCOT officials said all infrastructure operators -- from the power grid to water systems -- will need to reevaluate what level of extreme winter weather they prepare for.

Jerry Clayton and Dominic Anthony Walsh contributed to this report.

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