CenterPoint explains why some customers are without power and others are not

Kenny Mercado with CenterPoint Energy discusses power outages across Texas following severe winter weather.

KPRC 2′s Amy Davis talked with CenterPoint Vice President Kenny Mercado about the extended power outages and how the transmission company determines where to turn off the electricity during a crisis.

Here’s a recap of the questions she asked the answers Mercado gave.

Why are so many customers without power?

Generation plants that create electricity were knocked offline because of the weather situation. So, the plants are creating less electricity and people are needing more energy to heat their homes. Keep in mind, Centerpoint does not create or generate electricity, all they do is take the electricity and pass it on to customers.

Why do some people have electricity and others do not?

Mercado explained what happened Monday night in regards to certain neighborhoods without power while others still had electricity.

“We are in a delicate position where we have a significant amount of power that is out and a significant amount of generation that is out and load that is putting us in a very difficult situation to ensure we are properly managing the grid and keeping it safe and stable,” he said.

Mercado said that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state agency charged with managing the state’s power grid, issued orders to reduce the pull on the grid. That was when Centerpoint started moving around electricity for certain customers.

“The ones who have been without power the longest -- and we know who they are -- we tried to get them back on the system and replace them with somebody who has not been out of power, but do it in a well-designed way, not to create any risk,” he said.

“We were able to get a larger number than we thought back on and we were able to do a trade-off. So some customers will see their power back on during the middle of the night,” he added.

Mercado said Centerpoint was making good headway getting power back on to customers, but the company hit a new roadblock early Tuesday morning.

“Then, about 4 am, we had to stop (turning on customers),” he said. “We were making good progress but due to new units coming offline and some of them around the Greater Houston area, we were then told to take more load off the system. That’s a challenge and we did it.”

How much longer will people have to wait for electricity?

“We are still trying our best to get more customers back on,” Mercado said. “There is an indication that more generators are going to come back on (Tuesday). That’s good news. Not all of them, but some and some of them are big units.”

Mercado said the process of restoring power is usually done by an automated system on a circuit-by-circuit basis. He said there could be a thousand or so customers on a single circuit, so that group will get power back while a group on another circuit may not.

“(Tuesday), we are working manually,” he said. “We are going around to any load we can find that is not managed by critical customers and we will try our best to get more load from other areas that have not been affected in previous days. It will help us relieve more customers.”

Conservation is helping. Keep doing it.

“The conservation efforts that occurred (Monday) made a really big impact,” Mercado said. “It helped avoid additional customer outages. (Tuesday), we are looking at manual ways. We are going to manually find ways to get into these bigger buildings.”

Why are all of the downtown Houston lights on, if people are not at work?

Frustration has been expressed over images of downtown Houston lit up during a major power shortage. Mercado said they’ve asked businesses to conserve. For example, empty schools or empty office buildings. Right now, Centerpoint is manually going one by one turning off the electricity to certain buildings.

“If we continue down this path, and we do not have the relief, continue not to have generation, you will see a lot bigger buildings without power moving forward,” he said.

When will everyone get power back on?

Mercado said as power plants that are owned by third parties come online, they have to ramp up slowly before being at full power. He said that could occur by Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t sit here, (Tuesday), and say we are through today. I just don’t see it,” said Mercado. “We are going to need to be prepared for the rest of the day and into the night and hopefully we will have ourselves back in pretty good shape in a day or two.”

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