Thousands without power on Galveston Island

April 27, 2011 4:21:03 PM PDT
The Texas drought, coupled with the high winds, is causing problems in much of our area because of something you don't hear very often -- salt-related outages.

More than 14,000 people were without power on Wednesday, and many of them in and around Galveston Island's Jamaica Beach.

We're not aware of it, but people there are aware of it. In fact, we spoke with a man who's lived on the island for about six years and says he's seen it happen before. As of 5pm Wednesday, CenterPoint said only 25 residents remained without power on island and about 1,200 system-wide.

Customers were finally starting to trickle in to the Hummel family's deli in Pirate's Beach.

"At five o'clock this morning, the lights went out at my house; my alarm company called me and said the power was out at the store," said Bill Hummel, owner of Hummel's General Store.

The deli was dark all morning and past lunchtime today -- their two busiest times of the day.

"They get their coffee, their burritos, their sandwiches, then of course lunch. We didn't even have lunch," Hummel said.

They say they lost around $800 to the power outage. But that's part of doing business on an island.

At one point, CenterPoint Energy says 14,000 people were without power and salt is the culprit. The salt in the air accumulates on power lines when the weather is very dry and windy. The accumulation triggers a surge which then triggers a safety mechanism that then shuts down the circuit.

Normally, rain would wash that salt away, but since we are under a drought, humans have to do what Mother Nature is not doing.

"If we get in a situation where we find ourselves now, we have to go out there with mechanical equipment, washing devices and wash them," said Scott Prochazka, Senior Vice President of Electrical Operations at CenterPoint.

CenterPoint crews were scrubbing salt-encrusted power lines all day, and the Hummels say they're relieved that effort restored their power in time for the late afternoon crowd.

"They're calling saying you open? Oh yeah we're open. Is your beer cold? Yeah, it's cold!" Hummel said.

Salt also is being blamed for the refinery outages in Texas City.

There are no existing monitors that can tell CenterPoint how much salt has built up ahead of time, and the company doesn't water power lines for prevention because of the cost and hours of labor involved. So if you believe your power is out due to salt on the lines, the best thing to do is to call the company.

CenterPoint also plans to use a helicopter to wash off more of the salt, but even a simple change in wind direction could carry the salty air away. Also, several streets would have to be closed for that to happen.

One thing CenterPoint want to stress is that customers should never spray a power line on their own.

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