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Blackouts Frustrate Texans, More Outages Possible

Truck in Durant, Texas.
(cc) Nedral
Truck in Durant, Texas.

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-950074.mp3

Dallas, TX – Texans across the state could again experience rolling power outages today. That's according to ERCOT, the agency that operates the electric power grid which serves most of the state.

ERCOT says the frigid weather has caused electricity use to approach record levels and it is urging customers to conserve wherever possible to avoid further blackouts.

The ongoing concern about power capacity follows a day that was confusing for some consumers, frustrating for others as KERA's Shelley Kofler reports.

When the rolling black outs began around 6:00am Wednesday Trish Hughes Howard and her family were still asleep in their Plano home.

Howard says it was a few hours later when her 9-year old son noticed the power was off. Howard used her iPhone to search the Internet for information. That's when she learned utilities were cutting off electricity for 10 to 40 minutes at a time because the demand for power was becoming greater than the supply.

Howard: There was no notice it was going to happen.

After the third outage Howard went upstairs to turn off electronic equipment. But it was too late for her son's computer. In Howard's words, "it was fried."

Howard: It upset me not only that we weren't notified in some way, but also because of the way they chose different places that had exemptions. I can kind of understand like hospitals and grocery stores but when I saw Cowboys Stadium was granted an exception because of the Super Bowl stuff. So it's ok for a home with children to be without power without notice but they give an exemption to a football stadium.

Oncor is the utility in North Texas that carried out ERCOT's order for blackouts. Oncor's Jeamy Molina says power wasn't interrupted for critical needs customers like hospitals and nursing homes or when security was a concern. Molina says Super Bowl security was cited by state and local officials for putting Cowboys Stadium on the no-turnoff list.

Molina: That was put on the list because it could pose a huge security risk. We've been asked to make sure there is no problem there.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit says its passenger rail system should also have been on the no-turnoff list or the agency should have received prior notice so it could shift to an alternative power source. But DART says the blackouts hit without warning, shutting down the signaling system. Morgan Lyons with DART says workers were forced to slow train speeds and manually switch trains on tracks which delayed thousands of passengers for hours.

Lyons: It was terribly inconvenient for the customers because they couldn't get where they wanted to go. It was also inconvenient for the customers because we couldn't give them information.

Dozens who experienced the outages emailed KERA or contacted our Facebook page. Several said their homes got so cold they had to leave. Others were frustrated because they had no idea when the outages would hit. They said the power surges set off smoke detectors and traffic lights didn't work.

Edna Ruano, a communications specialist found it difficult to cook a meal or finish a work assignment or her computer.

But she decided it could all be much worse.

Ruano: I have to say I like having the rolling blackouts as opposed to having the power go out for six hours straight.

ERCOT says that's what the rolling outages are designed to prevent.

Email Shelley Kofler