13 Investigates: CenterPoint admits 'clearly more needs to be done'

Wednesday, July 10, 2024
13 Investigates: CenterPoint admits 'clearly more needs to be done'
In an interview with 13 Investigates, CenterPoint Energy admits not enough resiliency work was done heading into Hurricane Beryl.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Despite spending $1.46 billion over the last five years to improve its infrastructure, CenterPoint Energy admits that insufficient resiliency work was done before the Category 1 hurricane that left millions of people without power this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, more than 1 million households were still without power more than 48 hours after Beryl.

13 Investigates' Kevin Ozebek asked CenterPoint leadership if enough was done to build resilience for this hurricane season.

"No," Jason Ryan, CenterPoint's executive vice president of regulatory services and government affairs, said. "That's why we proposed this plan going forward."

Ryan refers to a nearly 1,000-page "Resiliency Plan" CenterPoint filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas. He said they expect the state to approve the plan by the end of the year.

SEE ALSO: New CenterPoint Energy map shows repair work hasn't even started in many areas still without power

It details how CenterPoint wants to strengthen its local infrastructure for storms like Hurricane Beryl and future extreme weather events. It also includes the cost of those improvements.

According to the plan, CenterPoint estimates spending $376 million to harden its transmission system from 2025 to 2027. Much of that money would go toward replacing old wooden power poles with stronger concrete poles.

Ryan said the company has already done some work over the last few years to replace its old wooden poles with stronger materials, like fiberglass and concrete, also known as composite poles.

He said there's proof those replacements worked during the May 16 derecho and this recent hurricane.

"Some of those structures, we've already replaced with composite poles instead of wooden poles, and I have been in both storms to places where the composite poles are still standing, and feet away from them, wooden poles that we haven't yet replaced are on the ground or snapped in half," Ryan said. "We saw that in the Cypress area in the May storm. We've seen that on the coast with this hurricane. The early indications from those two tests are that these composite structures withstand these extreme events better than the existing wood structures, and that will cut down on restoration time once we've completed that program."

He said that's because the composite poles are sturdier and can better withstand if a tree topples into it.

"When we have to go and set new poles, that takes a lot longer to restore service than simply stringing the wire back onto the top of the poles that are also still standing, so that's better resilience. That's being able to take a punch and get back up quicker, and the early indications from these two storms are that these poles are doing exactly that," Ryan said.

CenterPoint's proposed plan also calls for another $268 million to upgrade larger power towers into sturdier models and $31 million to replace overhead lines underground at freeway crossings. Overall, the plan totals $1.45 billion from 2025 to 2027.

But, Ryan said it would take decades for all of the improvements to occur, so the total cost to make the grid completely resilient could be even more.

According to the plan it submitted to the state, CenterPoint has already spent $1.46 billion on resiliency over the last five years.

"We are going to have to continue this resilience (and) spend over the course of the next decade to get to where we want to get to with the increasingly extreme storms that we're facing here in Houston," Ryan said.

While Ryan said the improvements did make a difference, Hurricane Beryl showed that those upgrades didn't make our grid completely hurricane-proof.

"I can't tell you that we've nailed resiliency, and we're done. I'm not saying we haven't been on a resiliency journey over the last 20 years, keeping up with these extreme events, but clearly, more needs to be done," Ryan said.

Texas has experienced issues with its power grid for years.

In January, CenterPoint paid the PUC $21,000 after being fined for violating the Public Utility Regulatory Act "concerning system reliability and service quality standards in reporting years 2020 and 2021."

The violations center around system-wide interruptions that lasted longer than CenterPoint's typical standards.

The agreement says, "CenterPoint has undertaken the system improvement projects."

According to the settlement, CenterPoint "has a documented history of violating service quality and reliability standards for the delivery of electricity to retail customers by transmission and distribution utilities."

The $21,000 fine is monetarily insignificant considering CenterPoint's overall operating budget, which includes a base salary of $1,150,000 for its CEO.

Contact 13 Investigates

Have a tip? A problem to solve? Send a tip below. If you don't have a photo or document to include, just hit 'skip upload' and send the details. (On mobile? You can open our form by tapping here.)