Hill Country power outages pass two weeks, some could be out into a third

Ice-related outages pre-date the statewide grid issues; miles of lines and poles down in rural service areas

GILLESPIE COUNTY, Texas – The controlled blackouts and the grid power crisis may be over, but the Texas Hill Country is struggling with its own power issues that have left some rural residents in the dark for more than two weeks.

Bob Loth, CEO of power distributor Central Texas Electric Co-Op (CTEC), said that as of Friday morning, CTEC had roughly 3,800 meters without power -- many of which were related to weather that began on Thursday, Feb. 11, when rain followed by an ice storm took down miles of power lines and poles. Though it’s hard to say how many people that equates to, as many of the electric co-op’s members in the rural service area have multiple meters, Loth agreed that “thousands” was likely accurate.

“Our goal is to be at less than 1,000 (meters) by Sunday evening. And I certainly want to be completely finished by next Friday,” Loth said.

He later told KSAT the 1,000 mark would be a “stretch” and that the Friday goal would mean they expect those who wanted power back would have it, while some meters for wells and hunting cabins may take longer.

The original rain and ice storm that began on Thursday, Feb. 11, knocked out power to 10,000 to 12,000 meters, Loth estimated. The statewide power crisis and the forced outages beginning early Monday, Feb. 15, didn’t help matters. At its peak, Loth said, about 35,000 of 43,000 CTEC meters had no power.

Loth said the winter weather that caused that crisis also made it difficult for crews to get out to assess what was down and help plan for repairs.

“The two other snow events that happened post-ice event basically just moved back our able-to-start date,” Loth said.

By Sunday, Feb. 21, Loth said CTEC was in its “rebuild” stage, meaning it couldn’t restore power without rebuilding something. At that point, he said there were about 10,000 meters without power, mostly in Kerr and Gillespie counties.

The restoration process is slow, though. Loth estimates there were a total of 1,500 to 2,000 downed poles, along with numerous cross arms.

The downed power lines and poles are in hard-to-reach places, too, with bulldozers sometimes required to pull the trucks where they’re needed. The payoff for each repair isn’t large either. Every mile of CTEC’s rural power lines serves just a handful of power meters.

“We had a crew the other day that they built 48 taps, 48 poles, brand new, they put up, and we turned on six customers after that,” Loth said.

While CTEC’s Contractor Coordinator Bruce Ottmers says CTEC has about 10 companies assisting its restoration process, there’s a limit to how many crews the electric co-op can safely manage and oversee.

“If we bring in too much outside help, there’s a tendency that we’ll have too many crews working on a line, and then somebody thinks that the line is going to be de-energized. And (if) something should happen that it does become energized, we don’t want to get anybody hurt. We want everybody to go home the same way they came to work that morning,” Ottmers said.

In the meantime, Gillespie County residents, like Colton Head, wait for the moment the lights flick back on.

Head said the power had gone off and returned before going down for good about two weeks ago.

“We could really count off, like, how many poles were snapping, trees and stuff. We could listen to these poles falling over here,” he said.

While a generator and propane stoves have helped, he’s more than ready for the power to return.

“Take a shower, probably make something to eat, something warm,” Head said, thinking ahead to that moment. “Probably just relax and just try and get warm.”

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.