Hoping to Prevent another Hurricane Power Outage

When Hurricane Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast one year ago this weekend — it resulted in the largest power outage ever for Centerpoint Energy. The direct hit affected more than 95-percent of the company’s customers and the storm will affect rate payers for years to come. Pat Hernandez tells us why.


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Hurricane Ike dwarfed its predecessors Rita and Alicia in size and customer power outages. Over 2.1-million were in the dark in the Houston area…some for over two weeks. My neighborhood in Missouri City had to endure for 11-days. Cathy Ostrum lives across the street.

“It used to be there was a hospital not more than two blocks away. When you’re close to a hospital, they restore your electricity very fast. So in the past, we were used to that. The hospital had closed, so we had a long wait.”

Another neighbor, Kenny Breiner, knew it was time to look for a generator. He managed to find one 2-hours away in Victoria…cash only.

“Now, we gotta get gas. Well, you go to Kroger’s and you got people lined up out on Highway 6, 30-40 cars deep, trying to get gas. So, between me and my neighbor everyday or two, we would go over the Kroger’s in the middle of the night and fill up. And in those ten days that we were without the electric, we spent close to 500-dollars in gasoline to keep the two houses going — his house and my house. So, it was a pretty eventful week.”

tree pulling down power linesCenterpoint Energy called Hurricane Ike a category “tree” storm because downed trees caused the majority of the damage. Scott Prochazka is V.P. for electric operations in Houston.

“The damage we saw was caused largely by flooding or by trees coming down.”

He says power restoration began almost immediately with the help of mutual assistance partners working 16-18 hour days non-stop.

“We brought in eleven thousand people to help us out. So, we brought in more people to help than our entire company comprises. Tree trimmers, line skills, as well as other Centerpoint employees. People in corporate, people in purchasing and logistics, people in other business units, all pitched in to make this a successful restoration.”

Centerpoint asked the Public Utility Commission for permission to collect 663 million dollars from consumers to cover its costs to restore electricity after Ike. That now appears as a surcharge on utility bills for the next 15-years. Houston state representative Sylvester Turner chaired a statewide committee that reviewed the emergency response to Hurricane Ike. He says  utilities like Centerpoint could do more to keep power flowing.

tree cutters“They are entitled to recoup their reasonable and necessary costs, and they should. But I think we all need to be responsible and take preventative steps to strengthen the system, make the electric grid reliable as we can make it, and then learn from states like Florida and others and make us much better prepared at lowest possible cost.”

Experts say burying power lines as a way to protect them is an expensive and tedious undertaking. Those costs would inevitably be passed on to the consumer.

PH, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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