Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

GRDA is among those sending boats, swift-water rescuers to Houston

The rescue crews working frantically this week to save stranded people in southeastern Texas from rising floodwaters included five officers from the Grand River Dam Authority, a public power utility based in Vinita, Oklahoma. Additional crews from another public power utility — CPS Energy of San Antonio — were scheduled to leave on Wednesday to assist with power restoration efforts in the area struck by Hurricane Harvey.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in the Houston area were crowded into emergency shelters, with more arriving. The death toll went up to at least 30, the New York Times reported Aug. 30.

Rain kept falling as Harvey, which had turned into a tropical storm over the weekend after its first landfall on Aug. 25, made a second landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border early Wednesday morning, then picked up a little bit of speed as it headed toward Louisiana at about 8 miles per hour.

Harvey was forecast to move through southwestern and central Louisiana Wednesday, then cross northeastern Louisiana and northwestern Mississippi on Thursday.

Although it was beginning to move out of the Houston region, Harvey “will continue to produce weather impacts through Friday,” the Department of Energy said in an Aug. 30 update. As of Aug. 30, there were 300,000 customers in Texas with no electricity and 12,000 outages in Louisiana.

Electric utility crews, including those at public power utilities, have been at the ready over the last few days to help with the disaster unfolding in Houston, but for the last few days, the situation in the biggest city in Texas has looked more like a matter of saving lives than of getting power restored.

GRDA sends boats, crews

The Grand River Dam Authority sent two flat-bottomed boats, designed for swift-water rescues, said GRDA spokesman Justin Alberty in an Aug. 30 interview with the American Public Power Association. The GRDA officials were part of a larger contingent of firemen and other emergency personnel from Mayes County, Okla., he said.

Grand River Dam Authority police officers on Aug. 30, assisting with water rescue efforts in the Houston area. Photo courtesy of GRDA

The boats, which look like rafts, are designed to operate in shallow waters, said Alberty. “We use them with the lakes and waters we manage here,” he said from GRDA’s transmission headquarters near Pryor, Okla.

A dozen rescue workers, including the five from GRDA, left for Texas on Monday morning for the long drive to the flooded areas that needed help, he said. They had been at the ready all weekend, but the call for help did not come until very early Monday morning — a request from the state of Texas, via the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

The first destination for the Oklahoma crews was Katy, Texas, but they were diverted to San Antonio for the night and then sent to the public power community of College Station, Texas, for deployment to flooded areas near Houston, Alberty said.

GRDA sent crews to help with power restoration in the public power community of Jacksonville, Florida, after Hurricane Matthew hit last year, Alberty said, “but sending our swift water team to a hurricane is new for us.”

CPS Energy sends crews in response to request from AEP Texas

Meanwhile, in response to a request from investor-owned utility American Electric Power Texas and the Texas Mutual Assistance Group, San Antonio, Texas-based public power utility CPS Energy reported that it was sending 53 employees (six line crews as well as fleet, safety and other support personnel) to assist with power restoration efforts in south Texas.

“Hurricane Harvey has left thousands of residents without electricity and CPS Energy employees have signed up to assist,” CPS Energy noted on its website. Crews were scheduled to depart San Antonio on Aug. 30.

Public power utility Austin Energy in Austin, Texas, reported Sunday that 72 hours after Harvey brought wind and heavy rain to central Texas, Austin crews continued to work to restore power to some 300 customers. Since 9 a.m. on Aug. 26, crews had restored power to more than 59,000 customers, the utility noted.

On the morning of Aug. 29, Austin Energy had 22 restoration crews and 30 tree-trimming crews working in the area to remove downed vegetation and restore equipment and circuits.

Downed trees have made restoration difficult in some areas, but the vegetation must be removed before repairs can be made, Austin Energy said.

Relief of a different kind in Lafayette

In Louisiana, Greg Labbe, transmission and distribution operations supervisor for the Lafayette Utilities System in Lafayette, Louisiana, said the worst of the storm appears to have passed.

The amount of rain that fell on Lafayette was less than was expected, he told the American Public Power Association on Wednesday.

“We really lucked out on this one,” he said.

The Energy Department said Aug. 30 that six refineries in the Corpus Christi area, seven in the Houston/Galveston area, and two in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area were shut down. Five more refineries in the Gulf Coast region are operating at reduced rates, DOE said.

ERCOT says grid remains in stable condition

Meanwhile, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in an update on the afternoon of Aug. 30, said its grid “remains in stable condition following Hurricane Harvey, and ERCOT competitive markets continue to operate.”

ERCOT said restoration continues where possible on the electric transmission and distribution facilities serving the affected regions. Two major 345-kV transmission lines remain out of service, including one in the Houston area, as well as 85 other high-voltage transmission lines in the affected areas.

About 7,600 MW of generation resource capacity is out of service, and some other units are operating at reduced capacity, for reasons related to the storm. “However, this level of generation outages does not pose a reliability concern for the ERCOT system at this time,” ERCOT said.

Electricity demand in the ERCOT region is starting to increase as some service is restored and temperatures begin to rise, the grid operator noted. ERCOT currently anticipates sufficient generation will be available to keep up with rising demand, which was forecast to reach between 51,000 and 52,000 MW Aug. 30.

ERCOT operations “will continue to focus on maintaining overall grid reliability, working closely with transmission and generation providers throughout the restoration process,” the grid operator said.

“System restoration times will vary depending on the extent of damage and location of the outage. Continued flooding will delay restoration in many areas, and new outages are likely to occur as flooding continues, along with additional impact from damaged trees,” ERCOT said.