Energy & Environment

Though Power Outages Were Limited, Harvey Revealed New Challenges For The Grid

For the first time during a Texas hurricane, mobile electric substations were brought in to restore power

A view of the flooding from Harvey in Houston’s Kingwood neighborhood.

The state's electric grid fared pretty well throughout Hurricane Harvey, but the storm did reveal some new challenges.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas said power outages during Harvey never topped 350,000 customers at any time. Which is pretty good, compared to the millions who lost power during Hurricane Ike.

DeAnn Walker, who chairs the PUC, told a U.S. House committee that this time, there were other problems.

"Many substations in our area flooded for the first time ever," she said Thursday. Walker said that the response – moving in mobile electric substations – was also a first.

"We're looking at whether or not it's prudent for the state as a whole – all of the utilities – to get together and purchase these mobile substations, to have on hand in such an event," she said.

The commission is exploring what Walker described as inconsistencies in how some utilities – specifically, those whose substations were flooded – reported power outages during the storm.

"Once they had a plan to bring in the mobile substation, they took those outages and moved them to planned outages, so they were no longer showing up as being impacted by the hurricane," Walker said. "I don't think that's an accurate representation."

Walker also said she's asked the state to look into why utilities in the Panhandle and Far West Texas were never called in to help, even though they were physically closer than some of those from around the U.S. that did respond.