Austin Energy
1:34 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

Rolling Blackouts Could Reach These 71 Areas in Austin

As record temperatures continue to bake Texas and air conditioning units run at full throttle across the state, Austin Energy is trying to reduce the potential impact of rolling blackouts.

Rotating power outages are preventive measures taken by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Austin’s utility will now spread the effect across 71 areas in Austin. On the above map, these areas are colored green. You can see a more detailed version of that map here.

The reason for this development: a flood of complaints when 20 percent of Austin Energy customers suffered extended (and repeated) power outages during rolling blackouts in February.

“We want to ensure that these blackouts are shorter in duration and that fewer people are affected repeatedly,” Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova told KUT News. “The way we can achieve this goal is to increase the number of areas in our grid which we can disrupt if necessary.”

Over the past six months, Austin Energy has increased the number of circuits it could “roll” during an emergency from 44 to 71.

As a result, 114,000 Austin Energy customers (or 28 percent) could now be affected during these power disruptions. That compares to 84,000 (20 percent) this past winter. But the amount of time power would be lost will decrease significantly. So would the number of times individual customers will be affected.

Austin Energy estimates that the average outage per customer this summer would be 10 to 15 minutes, if rolling blackouts become necessary. Until the end of the year, the utility hopes to upgrade more than 100 of its 360 circuits.

By disrupting the power supply in these areas, Austin Energy is helping ERCOT manage the voltage level across the state’s electricity grid.

“We need these rotating outages to prevent a total blackout,” Cordova said. “It would be a disaster, if the entire Texas grid went offline. The whole state would lose power, and it could take days to get the electricity system up and running again.”

Over the past 20 years, ERCOT has seen rolling blackouts three times.

One effective measure to prevent the need for these forced disruptions is energy conservation. When electricity consumption was at a record high in Austin and Texas last week and blackouts seemed imminent, ERCOT and Austin Energy urged their customers to use less power.

“It worked,” Cordova said. “Although the temperatures continued to increase, power consumption actually decreased, because people were mindful of how much electricity they consumed.”