Electricity woes

New Braunfels residents continued to experience rotating power outages for a second day on Tuesday in the wake of a winter storm that brought ice, snow and sub-freezing temperatures to the area.

More than 25,000 New Braunfels Utilities customers have experienced rotating power outages mandated by the state's electric grid operator, with some seeing repeated blackouts, since early Monday.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers representing about 90 percent of the state's electric load, said in a tweet they were optimistic that some customers would see power restored on Tuesday but gave no timetable when rotating outages would end.

ERCOT declared a third-level energy emergency alert early Monday and instructed NBU and transmission companies throughout the state to begin rotating power outages as there was not enough power available to keep up with consumer demand.

It was not immediately clear from ERCOT late Tuesday whether those rotating blackouts would continue, but NBU officials said, with another weather system expected to arrive Tuesday night, they anticipate the third-level alert to continue for some time, meaning rotating outages would likely continue Wednesday.

NBU said the utility aimed to keep outages to 60 minutes and warned it could be longer if other issues arose.

"NBU has determined that approximately 60 minutes is currently the necessary amount of time to bring customers back online in our system to minimize the system inrush and to incorporate rapidly changing load obligation from ERCOT," said Melissa C. Krause, NBU's chief communications and strategy officer. "The process takes time to shed and pick up the load, requiring the opening and closing of feeders."

Krause said NBU operates 23 to 27 circuits at a given time and requires a series of operations by systems control.

"Every step is taken with extreme care to ensure accuracy and safety," she said. "Please know NBU is working diligently to meet the requirements imposed by ERCOT. NBU determines the load curtailment based on the load on the circuit when required to curtail. We have to meet a total load shed obligation dictated by ERCOT, and we do not differentiate between larger and smaller circuits in attempting to meet the total obligation. We rotate outages throughout the system."

Customers on NBU's Facebook site on Tuesday inquired about why some areas of the city appear more impacted than others.

"The only areas not heavily impacted are 13 protected circuits, including two which are hospital load, three that are part of the under frequency load shedding and cannot be curtailed per ERCOT protocols, and eight additional circuits have been deemed ineligible by NBU for operational reasons — to ensure the reliability of essential services," Krause said.

Twenty-nine of NBU's 42 circuits are available for curtailment, or 69 percent, she said.

ERCOT said on Tuesday they expected additional wind and solar output, as well as thermal generation, to become available to help restore power but added that the amount of power restored depended on how much power generation was able to come online.

NBU crews continued to repair damage and restore power to its system on Tuesday, and officials said road conditions and extreme cold could delay or impact NBU's ability to safely restore services.

ERCOT said in a Tuesday morning tweet that it had directed local utilities to restore 400,000 households and that generation availability was improving.

A tweet later in the day said it was restoring load as fast as possible in a stable manner but generating units across fuel types continued to struggle with frigid temperatures.

NBU has received a record number of inquiries due to the storm, officials said.

Customers should continue to report outages by calling 830-629-4628 or text #OUT to 85700 if they are enrolled in text notifications.

People without power can take steps to stay warm by:

Closing blinds or curtains to trap heat inside.

Closing off rooms to avoid wasting heat.

Stuffing towels or rags in cracks under doors.

Eating and drinking because food can warm the body.

Wearing multiple layers of warm, loose-fitting clothing.

The New Braunfels Police Department has asked residents not to call 9-1-1 for outage updates.

NBU officials added that an additional factor affecting the restoration of power after a rotating outage was the in-rush electrical demand that occurs when power is restored.

In electrical outages, NBU recommends turning the heating unit off or turning the temperature down to reduce the immediate draw of power by electrical devices upon restoration of power.

Customers can view ERCOT's daily peak demand forecast, current load, and available generation online at ercot.com or download the ERCOT mobile app (available for download at the Apple App Store and Google Play). For the latest grid conditions updates, follow ERCOT on Twitter (@ERCOT_ISO).

Customers can view an online NBU outage map at outages.nbutexas.com.

Health officials alert public to carbon monoxide dangers

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Tuesday urged people to use extreme caution with electric generators and heat sources that produce carbon monoxide.

Generators should only be placed outdoors at least 10 feet away from buildings. They should never be operated indoors or in garages. Likewise, cars should not be run inside a garage, even with the door open, because carbon monoxide can build up, leading to death. Outdoor grills, camp stoves, and other appliances meant for open-air use should not be used to heat a home because they also create carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and invisible gas produced by burning gasoline, propane, wood, charcoal and other fuel. If it builds up in a confined space and people breathe it in, it can replace the oxygen in their blood, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning and death.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, drowsiness, severe headache, weakness, nausea and confusion.

Anyone with one or more of these symptoms should go – or be moved to – a well-ventilated area outdoors and receive immediate medical attention.

Abbott declares ERCOT reform an emergency item

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared the reform of ERCOT an emergency item this legislative session and said that the rolling blackouts that continued into Tuesday were "unacceptable."

In declaring the item an emergency, Abbott is calling on the state legislature to investigate ERCOT and "ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days."

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," Abbott said. "Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable. Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions."

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan asked two committees in the lower chamber to hold a joint hearing later this month to review the outages. Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, requested the House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees convene for the hearing on Feb. 25.

"We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues and what steps regulators and grid operators are taking to safeguard our electric grid," Phelan said in a news release.

Canyon Lake Water Services issues boil water notice

With extreme cold weather resulting in potential low or no water pressure and main breaks, Canyon Lake Water Service on Tuesday issued a precautionary boil-water notice for its customers in Comal and Blanco counties.

Affected residents should conserve water when possible and boil water for at least two minutes and cool it before usage to kill harmful bacteria.

Cities across Texas — including Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Abilene and San Angelo — have issued boil-water notices or other water-related warnings to residents.

Due to low water pressure, freezing temperatures and limited power supply, many treatment centers and suppliers have been unable to provide adequate water flow across the state.

The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.

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