Keeping the Lights On: Brownouts Were Costly

Electric customers across Texas were frustrated by the statewide rolling brownouts that occurred in early February. College Station Utilities shared our customers’ exasperation and deeply regrets any inconvenience or related problems caused by this emergency situation. State and federal authorities have launched investigations, and we are optimistic that the specific causes will be identified and appropriate steps taken to prevent a reoccurrence.

What Happened
In the early morning hours of Feb. 2, the extremely cold weather caused numerous power generation plants throughout the state’s transmission grid to trip offline in rapid succession. As a result, all electric utilities within the transmission system operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) immediately were ordered to conduct rolling brownouts of non-emergency customers. Without the brownouts, the ERCOT grid could have completely collapsed and would have taken 48 hours or longer to restore. Thanks to the timely response of electric utility systems within ERCOT, the grid did not collapse and the brownouts ended just after 1 p.m. College Station Utilities worked extremely hard to minimize the impact of this event on our community.

Financial Impact
Unfortunately, this emergency event had extreme financial consequences as the cost of power on the ERCOT market soared to maximum-allowed levels for more than six hours and were higher than normal for two days. Because of the excessive cold, College Station’s electric demand was almost 20 percent higher than any previous winter peak, forcing us to either purchase additional power or cut power to our customers, which was not a realistic option. Almost all electric utilities were required to purchase power on this high energy market due to the large number of offline generation stations, and College Station Utilities was forced to purchase power that was at least 50 times the normal market price. As a result of this extraordinary situation, power costs for a seven-hour period on Feb. 2 were equal to 15 to 20 days of normal costs, translating into several million dollars in additional charges.

What it Means
To cover such unanticipated expenses, most utilities have adjustment factors that are not part of the basic rates. Consequently, we deeply regret that a temporary increase in our Power Delivery Adjustment will be made to customers beginning with bills mailed in March. This means an average customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month will pay an additional $5 during lower usage months (March-June and November-December) for the rest of 2011. The amount of electricity used in each billing period is expressed in terms of a kilowatt-hour and is noted on the bills. When all actual costs from the emergency event are recovered, the Power Delivery Adjustment will return to its normal level.

College Station Utilities understands that an extra $5 per month is a significant amount during tough economic times, and this action is not taken lightly. Customers who need assistance with paying electric bills can call 2-1-1 or go online to 211texas.org.

College Station Utilities is profoundly grateful to our loyal customers and we sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding as we recover from this emergency event. Our highest priority is delivering reliable electricity to our customers, and we are dedicated to working closely with state authorities and ERCOT to ensure that a dependable power supply continues to be available for everyone who calls our community home.

David Massey
David Massey
Director of Electric Services | College Station Utilities
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