Winter Storms Ravage Co-op Country

A five-year-old fiberglass composite pole in the Kent area. These poles are structurally engineered for extreme conditions.

Rio Grande Electric Cooperative’s (RGEC's) territory wasn’t spared by Winter Storm Uri, or his sister storm, Viola, as the mid-February storms plummeted all of Texas and NM.

The weather damage to the Co-op’s equipment was substantial. In some areas, spans of ten poles and line were taken completely out by the weight of ice on lines, and the additional stress on poles. In mountainous areas, RGEC routinely uses both poles and conductor (lines) rated well above what is required, in an effort to stave off some of the damage. However, these back-to-back storms, over a time span of 6 days, stretched members’ patience and RGEC’s repair crews to their limits.

Compounded by ERCOT-mandated rolling blackouts amid a statewide power shortage, RGEC’s members were left in the dark and cold. Co-op consumers overall were remarkably patient, and for this, we are truly thankful. Their own frustration was matched by the Co-op’s.

In an effort to be prepared for actual power emergencies, RGEC, in coordination with transmission providers and ERCOT, participates in drills to simulate power emergencies. In these drills, RGEC is asked to “shed load”, or curtail power usage. CEO Roger Andrade explained that drills have been conducted, in which up to 4 Megawatts of load shedding occurred. RGEC was prepared for something of this nature. What no one was prepared for, was the directive to shed over 13 Megawatts of load.

Ice loading was responsible for the downing of 43 spans of line in the Dell City operations area. Photo by Area Operations Manager Cat Aranda.

As of time for this issue to go to press, Texas Governor Abbott has called for an investigation into the mishandling of the power grid by ERCOT, and lawmakers throughout the state are demanding answers on behalf of their constituents.

COO Theresa Quiroz, in her message to members posted on Facebook February 17, explained the situation.

“The extreme freezing weather that has a grip on Texas is affecting all of us. We know what you are going through because the employees of RGEC and their families are going through this with you. Lineworkers are working around the clock outdoors and with little sleep to hold our system together. Others are working in the cold dark to keep the electricity flowing safely—for your family and theirs.

Right now Texans are experiencing a combination of unprecedented scenarios.

First, because of the record-setting freezing weather in all 254 counties, the demand for electricity in Texas is greater than what can be produced at power plants. To avoid damage to the power grid, utilities across the state, including RGEC, have been ordered to implement rolling blackouts. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to comply with these directives.

Photo of Ft. Stockton area ranch showing ice loading on lines.

Second, since last Thursday, the entire state has experienced freezing rain, snow, wind gusts, and relentless cold that have damaged poles, wires, and equipment that keep the power flowing. The physical damage to RGEC takes time to repair, especially in extreme conditions. Normally co-ops from across the state assist one another by providing hundreds of crews who can help. Because the damage is statewide and travel is dangerous, the movement of crews is limited for now.

Third, power plants require water to operate. Temperatures across all of Texas have remained below freezing for five days and are expected to remain there for several more. The water used by some power plants is frozen, limiting the generating capacity in the state.

Please know that we understand your frustration. Rio Grande Electric Co-op is committed to serving you, and we are working tirelessly to keep the lights on and to keep you and your families safe.”