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El Paso Electric Answers When Power Problem Might Be Fixed, How Blackout Areas Chosen And More

By Daniel Marin, danielm@kvia.com
Published On: Jun 25 2012 04:59:43 PM CDT
Updated On: Feb 06 2011 11:16:49 AM CST
EL PASO, Texas -

El Paso Electric spokesman spoke with ABC-7 Friday morning about the winter storm that knocked all local power generators out at the EPE's two power plants, how rolling blackouts work and the possibility the blackouts could continue into Super Bowl Sunday.

Wednesday morning, EPE's eight generators at its two local plants went out due to the extreme cold. Quintana said Friday, "We hope to get one, maybe two units up by the end of today."

He said he had experienced three of the rolling blackouts himself.

Quintana said they are not waiting for any parts to fix the local generators. He explained it wasn't just the cold that caused the local generators to fail, but another aspect of the weather. He said EPE's plants were built to handle 105 degrees, extreme cold temperatures compounded with windchills.

"In 1962, the temperature went to -8," Quintana said. "We don't have a record of what the windchill was then. The windchill in this storm was well, well below 0. It was the windchill that caused the problem. We have had cold temperatures in the past but it was the windchill (that caused the problems this time). We're waiting for it to thaw out. We thaw one part out and then another freezes."

Quintana said there are times when EPE sells energy to other power plants but it is not doing that currently because it is not generating any power and doesn't have any energy to sell.

Read the Q&A below:

ABC-7: How much power does the service area need?

Quintana:The area usually runs on 1100 megawatts per day in the winter.

ABC-7: How much power are we running on right now?

Quintana: Because the plants are offline, EPE is trying to keep us running at 850 to 900 MW per day.

ABC-7: When does EPE decide to issue a rolling blackout?

Quintana: The rolling blackouts start when we surpass 900 MW in usage, the blackouts are not on a schedule.

ABC-7: Why are some areas seeing more blackouts than others?

Quintaina: The service area is split into 35 "blocks." Blocks 1-17 are considered to be non-critical, that means there aren't near any hospitals, fire stations or emergency centers. If someone's lost power 10 times over the last few days, they're probably in one of those 'non-critical' blocks. People are not seeing as many blackouts probably live near hospitals, etc.

ABC-7: How do they decide which non-critical blocks to turn off first?

Quintana: They are selected randomly.

ABC-7: We're getting complaints from callers saying they've lost power six times and their sister hasn't lost power at all on the West Side, so (are rolling blackouts) completely random?

Quintana: The sister may be hooked up to a feeder that's feeding a critical operation. They will never get cut off. I have friends of mine that live near the hospital and they won't get cut off because they happen to be on the same feeder as the hospital. Some customers will not get cut off. You all will not get cut off unless it is a very critical situation. TV stations and radio stations are the last ones to get off.

ABC-7: When it comes to rolling blackouts, do you start them at specific times or when it looks like it's going to overload (the system) and there's a problem?

Quintana: We have a meter that tells us what our load is and we need to keep it between 850 and 900 MW in order to not lose the entire system. When we get over 900 MW, which we were at now, we start shutting loads. And each load has its own measure of megawatt. So if we need to lose a lot, we'll choose a block that has a lot of customers. If we don?t need to lose a lot, we will choose one with less customers. We have to make sure that number doesn't go above a certain megawatt. The only thing sustaining us is power from Palo Verde and buying power from east of us. Let's say we don't shed a load and our regular load is 1100 MW a day during the winter ... let's say we let it go to that ... with no local generation. Let's say ... (we aren't having blackouts) and everyone is on, and one of those transmissions goes out, we are going to have a total system outage because we don't have local generation to bring up. It would be a couple of days to get the power back up. That is why we need to keep the lights on as much as possible but we need to shed loads. That's why we have to do rolling blackouts.

ABC-7: When the rolling blackouts are instituted for, you say 45 minutes to an hour, is it pretty much at the hour you guys will check and if you're below 900 before you turn those without power back on?

Quintana: (For example,) we have people that are going to bring down block number seven. Somebody is watching it for 45 min to an hour. We will hit the button and put them back on and take someone else off. We open those breakers by computers but if we want to close them back to reconnect, sometimes they won't reconnect. We have to reconnect them manually. We have workers across town ready for that to happen. There are thousands of breakers around town. We're not having transmission problems. Our problem is a generation problem.

ABC-7: Why am I getting a recording when I call that EPE hotline?

Quintana: They do have actual staff members answering the phone calls. If people get a recording, that's because the operators are busy.We've been flooded with calls from people just wanting to complain. They want to remind people to only call this number if you've been without power for more than an hour. Numbers are 877-3400 in TX, 575-523-7591 in NM

ABC-7: Once the temperature rises, do you expect the electricity to be restored or are you expecting problems with equipment?

Quintana: Our transmission system has held up. We have not had transformer problems or transmission problems. We don't anticipate any problems.

ABC-7: With this poor buying on open market, what should our viewers be prepared for on their next electric bill? Is this something that's going to boost it 5-20-100 percent?

Quintana: We're not sure. We buy power all the time. When it's cheaper to buy power than to run a plant, we buy power.

ABC-7: But it's at a premium right now, right?

Quintana: The problem we're having is the plants we buy from are having the same problem. The amount of power to buy is very limited right now.

ABC-7: Are there any limits on the cost of the power that you buy or does it fluctuate with the market?

Quintana: It fluctuates.

ABC-7: We are also getting questions about the Super Bowl. Do you expect this problem to be solved by Sunday?

Quintana: Like who's gonna win it or what?

ABC-7: Are they going to get to watch it?

Quintana: Well, we will hope by this evening that we will have enough local generation. The weather will cooperate tomorrow (Saturday). We're working our darndest to try to get some local generation up that will keep. I can't tell you for sure (about whether Super Bowl could be interrupted by rolling blackouts).

Written for the Web by Web Producer Leonard Martinez

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