CPS Energy chief says San Antonians will face power outages through Saturday, some longer

CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold Williams speaks during a 2017 energy symposium. - CPS Energy
CPS Energy
CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold Williams speaks during a 2017 energy symposium.
San Antonio residents will likely need to contend with intermittent power through Saturday, and some still may experience outages into the following week, CPS Energy's top official told city council Wednesday.

During an emergency council session conducted virtually, CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams described a perfect storm of weather catastrophes that ate away at the city-owned utility's power-generating capabilities at the same time as freezing weather spiked demand.

"Our objective is to get everybody up as quickly as possible, but the grid is unstable," Gold-Williams said, adding that statewide weather issues and plant outages make resumption of normal power a moving target.

The city-owned utility was forced to reduce capacity as freezing weather played havoc with its coal, natural gas and nuclear plants and as the operator of Texas' power grid asked it to throttle back, Gold-Williams said. CPS also faced problems accessing natural gas, the fuel for the majority of its plants, as demand accelerated and drove prices through the roof.

While most customers will likely see stable power return as the weather warms going into the weekend, some will not, Gold-Williams explained. The utility will need to conduct manual repair of blown fuses and other damaged equipment.

Tension became apparent at several points when Gold-Williams said the utility has learned from the crisis and will implement new measures in the future.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg told Gold-Williams that CPS's automated system letting customers know when power was restored gave out erroneous information early in the crisis. He asked why the utility couldn't send text messages like city's emergency alert system.

Gold-Williams said CPS has spoken to the city and county about sharing their text alert system. She said the power company will make improvements to customer communications "after we get out of this storm."

"Can we do that immediately?" Nirenberg asked. "I mean, it would be very helpful. Even if folks are all not on the system, chances are they have a neighbor or friend who will get an alert and they can coordinate that way. I think something is better than nothing nothing at this point. Everybody's in the dark."

Nirenberg also questioned why San Antonio Water System pumping stations weren't considered critical infrastructure that would be spared rolling blackouts. After a lengthy pause, Gold-Williams responded that rethinking which circuits were treated as critical is "obviously an opportunity point for us."

Councilman Manny Pelaez said there will be ample time down the line conduct a postmortem on the power outages. He lamented that CPS hadn't done more to make its system more resilient.

"What's really frustrating for me is that when we've raised rates over the past decade, we always raise them with the promise that some of this money is going to go to making the grid more resilient and to upgrade our equipment," he said.

"Paula, I'll be frank with you, having called it a 'gap' or an 'opportunity,' that's  going to go viral today, and that's going to piss people off," he added.

After Gold-Williams' presentation, Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda said she still doesn't understand how long her constituents will be without power. She said she was less concerned about the "why" of the problem than when power would be restored.

"People in this city want answers," she said.

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