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High winds, thunderstorms wreak havoc in East Texas, Louisiana, cutting power

Highlights

Over 1 million customers offline at peak

Houston impact estimate: $5 bil-$7 bil

Texas real-time power prices weaken

  • Author
  • Markham Watson and Noah Schwartz
  • Editor
  • Gary Gentile
  • Commodity
  • Chemicals Electric Power Energy Transition

Almost 890,000 electricity customers remained without power in East Texas and Louisiana around 1:15 pm CT May 17 in the wake of deadly thunderstorms with hurricane-level winds, which at least one industry observer says is "the new normal" that might weaken rooftop solar investment.

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Electric Reliability Council of Texas on-peak power prices and load as of about 2 pm CT May 17 were down from the same hours May 10-16. In the Midcontinent Independent System Operator's Louisiana and Texas hubs, on-peak prices were down about 2:30 pm CT, but MISO, which does not provide real-time load data on a regional basis, reported systemwide load higher than the same hours May 10-16.

'The new normal'

The Associated Press reported that at least four people were killed by the storm itself, which the New York Times said generated 100 mph winds. The scenes of broken glass from downtown Houston skyscrapers resembled the aftermath of September 2008's Hurricane Ike and 1983's Hurricane Alicia.

"Weather volatility is empirically increasing," said Evan Caron, a founding partner of the Dallas-based HGP Storage battery development firm. "This is the new normal."

Campbell Faulkner, senior vice president and chief data analyst at OTC Global Holdings, an interdealer commodity broker, said the storm was "a normal part of the springtime risk profile for Southeast Texas."

"Multiple meteorologists have been warning of the possibility for such a setup due to the way the convective boundaries have been staging this spring," Faulkner said May 17.

Restoration efforts

Around 7:40 pm CT May 16, more than 1 million customers in Texas lacked electric service, according to PowerOutage.us. As of about 1:30 pm CT May 17, almost 782,000 customers across Texas and more than 107,600 Louisiana customers had no power.

As of about 1:30 pm CT, PowerOutage.us reported the top numbers of outages as follows:

  • CenterPoint Energy in Texas: 657,333
  • Entergy: 31,098 in Louisiana, 9,911 in Texas
  • Sam Houston Electric Cooperative in Texas: 11,327
  • Beauregard Electric Cooperative in Louisiana: 13,760
  • Cleco Power in Louisiana: 8,581
  • San Bernard Electric Cooperative in Texas: 8,695
  • Oncor in Texas: 5,426

CenterPoint targeted

The storm cut service to almost 922,000 CenterPoint Energy at the peak of outages, the company said.

"In certain parts of our service area where the damage to our infrastructure was significant, our restoration efforts are expected to take several days, and some of the hardest hit areas could take longer," said Lynnae Wilson, CenterPoint Energy senior vice president for electric business. "We are mobilizing all our available resources, as well as mutual assistance resources from nearby utility companies, to begin the process of quickly and safely restoring power to our customers."

CenterPoint Energy spokesman Joshua Solis confirmed that its CenterPoint Energy Tower in Downtown Houston "sustained damage."

"At this time, we are not noticing that any specific industries are facing more outages than others," Solis said. "We do anticipate that petrochemical and refineries, like many businesses in the greater Houston area, have been affected by power outages."

The Houston metro area has the world's largest medical complex in addition to the US' largest concentration of petrochemical facilities. Solis said CenterPoint prioritizes restoring service to "facilities vital to safety, health and welfare, such as hospitals, water treatment plants and public service facilities" before other structures.

AccuWeather on May 17 estimated the total damage and economic loss for the Houston metro area to be in the range of $5 billion to $7 billion, the downtown damage "similar to wind impacts from hurricanes Ike and Alicia."

Thousands working on repairs

CenterPoint has deployed more than 2,000 employees and contractors and requested about 4,000 line workers and 1,000 vegetation workers for mutual assistance. The utility is also deploying mobile generation resources at some locations to temporarily restore power locally.

The hardest hit area was around US 290 north and west of Houston, "where there was strong evidence of a tornado," CenterPoint said, but winds of 65-85 mph -- equivalent to a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane, flew through downtown Houston eastward toward the northern Galveston Bay area, where much of the nation's petrochemical capacity is located.

"Much of the most significant damage to our infrastructure occurred in areas such as Bellaire, Cypress, Baytown, Greenspoint, Humble and Spring Branch," Solis said, adding that the company intends to provide more specific information on the extent of the damage to its infrastructure in the coming days.

For on-peak hours from 6 am to 2 pm CT, ERCOT systemwide hub real-time prices averaged as $14.53/MWh, down $10.08, or 41%, from an average of $24.61/MWh for the same period of May 10-16.

For on-peak hours of 6 am to 2 pm CT, ERCOT load averaged 45.1 GW, down 5.4 GW, or 8.9%, from an average of 49.5 GW for the same hours of May 10-16.

ERCOT, government reactions

ERCOT spokesperson Trudi Webster said the system is "operating under normal conditions."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said his office and the Texas Division of Emergency Management "remain in contact with local officials to do everything we can to protect Texans and help our communities recover."

The Public Utility Commission of Texas is "closely monitoring the impacts of severe weather across the state," spokesperson Ellie Breed said May 17.

"Members of the PUCT's staff are in the State Operations Center coordinating with utilities and partner agencies to ensure power is restored to all Texans as quickly and safely as possible," Breed said.

Entergy Texas reported around 9:30 am CT May 17 it had restored service to about 66% of the 44,500 customers that were offline as of 8 pm May 16.

Round 2 for Louisiana

Entergy Louisiana said around 7 am it was assessing damages and restoring power where safe to do so.

"A storm team of more than a thousand, many of whom have assisted with restoration efforts following the first wave of severe weather that crossed the state late Monday, is engaged in current assessments and restoration efforts following the second wave," Entergy said.

As of 3:30 pm CT, most of the Entergy Louisiana customers offline were in the parishes of Jefferson, St. James and Tangipahoa, but most customers are likely to have service restored by Sunday, Entergy said.

"While a storm team of more than a thousand remains engaged in restoration efforts across the state, additional resources like tree trimmers and distribution line workers have been requested," Entergy said.

Pineville, Louisiana-based Cleco Power said it had restored power to about 20,000 of the 35,000 customers who lost power during the storm, with the help of about 280 technicians from outside the Cleco system, including mechanics and vegetation workers.

"The damage is consistent with past powerful storms," said Clint Robichaux, Cleco director of distribution operations and reliability. "We are seeing lots of downed wire, broken poles and cross-arms as well as flooded areas, which can be challenging when working to restore power because we often have to wait for water to recede or bring in special equipment."

As of 2:30 pm CT, MISO reported locational marginal prices averaging $21.35/MWh at the Louisiana Hub and $28.81/MWh at the Texas Hub. For May 10-16, real-time on-peak LMPs averaged $24.91/MWh at the Louisiana Hub and $29.07/MWh at the Texas Hub.

MISO reported its systemwide load was 79.4 GW as of 2:30 pm CT May 17, up from 78.1 GW for the hour ending at 3 pm CT May 10-16. MISO does not provide real-time load data for just the MISO South Region that includes Louisiana and Texas.

Impact on rooftop solar

As ERCOT's rooftop solar development has grown, some homeowners have complained about the costly damage from severe thunderstorms, and HGP's Caron said the May 16 storm may weaken demand for residential installations, particularly in Houston, "and the math doesn't really work in this interest rate environment anyway."

In contrast, Caron said he expects more investment in storage and distributed generation.

OTC Global's Faulkner said the May 16 storm "was a good reminder of the massive risk that the greater Houston area faces from a wind event hurricane."

"Hurricane Ike was long enough ago that most in the area have become complacent and forget just how damaging and dangerous high winds can be for transmission and end-user distribution," Faulkner said. "Events like this always tend to spur commercial and industrial and residential adoption of emergency generation sources, predominantly gas-fired back up generation. ... It does remain to be seen if events like this spur more consumers to deploy combinations of rooftop solar and battery storage solutions for their own residences."