Power outage solutions: What can be done to fix Texas' fragile power grid?

As of Friday, 5,000 CenterPoint workers are still working to restore power for thousands after Hurricane Nicholas.
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It has been several days since Hurricane Nicholas swept through southeast Texas and CenterPoint Energy told ABC13 on Friday that 5,000 employees are still working around the clock to restore power for thousands of customers throughout the region.

On Friday afternoon, crews were working to replace multiple utility poles damaged by the storm near Bissonnet and Hazard streets, which impacted power for nearly 80 homes and businesses, according to the company's outage map.

Michael Pohl, a tenant in a nearby neighborhood whose power was temporarily out due to the repair project, said he had just bought groceries and was concerned they would spoil before the power was turned back on.

"If you live in [southeast] Texas, buy a generator," Pohl said. "If you don't need the generator today, you will need it pretty soon."

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the chief energy officer for the University of Houston, said power outages due to severe weather events like tropical storms and hurricanes, has become almost normal throughout the Houston-area region and along the Texas coast.

"This was not a Category 5 hurricane," he explained. "This was not a Category 4 hurricane. This was, at best, a Category 1 hurricane. It's so unbelievable that for a city like Houston, four days after the storm has passed for us, to have homes and commercial establishments without electricity, it's unbelievable. It's just an absence of putting resources together."

He said it's not just the Houston area or the state of Texas. All across the country, the infrastructure is aging and needs to be rebuilt.

"The market has been deregulated and companies such as CenterPoint are required to maintain the infrastructure," Krishnamoorti said. "Unfortunately, they are constrained by how much they can charge consumers and where they can get the money for the continuous upkeep with the grid. So, every time they come in and say they need extra money for the upkeep of the grid, they have to go in front of the Public Utility Commission. They have to ask for a rate increase and that rate increase is usually blocked by PUC members, because they see this as a shifting cost to the rate payers."

Krishnamoorti said unfortunately, the customers will likely pay the price either way when the Texas power grid fails.

However, he said finding a universal solution is difficult.

"What you do need is more personnel, more equipment that companies like CenterPoint could deploy and fix the problem," Krishnamoorti said. "This is not a challenge of not knowing the problem, it's just not having enough people and enough equipment to really sort it out."

Meanwhile, CenterPoint Energy issued the following statement on Friday:

"CenterPoint Energy crews worked throughout the overnight hours to restore service to our impacted customers. The more than 5,000 employees, contractors and mutual assistance crew members will continue to work around-the-clock to serve our customers. Today's focus is continuing to address the more challenging outage issues caused by the storm's extensive damage to some parts of our system. We appreciate our customers' continued patience and will work hard to restore their service as safely and quickly as possible.

Please note that Hurricane Nicholas may have caused damage to customer-owned equipment, such as their meter box or weatherhead - the point where the line enters the home through a pipe. In those cases, customers will need to contact a qualified electrician to make sure the damage is repaired before the company is able to restore service to them.

CenterPoint Energy has been posting updates on our Twitter page and we are providing storm restoration updates by service center on www.CenterPointEnergy.com/updates."

For updates on this report, follow ABC13 reporter Roxie Bustamante on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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