Restoring region’s power grid was no small task
• More than half of Xcel Energy’s Texas customers lost power in Winter Storm Billy
AMARILLO, Texas (Nov. 4, 2020) – Xcel Energy crews are finishing up repairs on the area power grid more than a week after Winter Storm Billy pummeled the Texas plains with ice, snow and high winds, leaving more than half of the company’s Texas customers in the dark.
“This storm ranks as one of the worst winter storms to hit us in recent memory because it affected almost every section of our Texas service area,” said David Hudson, president, Xcel Energy – New Mexico, Texas. “It was quite an ordeal for many customers, especially those who were without power for days on end, and we’re so grateful for everyone’s patience and understanding as our crews worked night and day to restore service.”
The storm first impacted the eastern sections of the South Plains and Texas Panhandle regions on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 with significant icing and strong winds, damaging the high-voltage transmission network and miles of lower-voltage distribution lines feeding power directly to many communities and customers.
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, more freezing rain was followed by heavy snowfall in the central Panhandle, including the city of Amarillo, where tree limbs weighted by ice and snow damaged hundreds of individual electric service connections.
More than 148,000, or about 54% of Xcel Energy’s Texas customers, experienced sustained outages during the storm. By early this week, crews had replaced more than 1,500 wooden poles, 4,500 cross arms and close to 50 miles of wire and cable that were destroyed in the storm.
More than 750 Xcel Energy and contract line workers worked nonstop for a week to restore most customers affected by the storm. These workers were made up of both local crews and crews from New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and other parts of Texas.
“We’re grateful that so many traveled from long distances to help. Many of our neighboring utilities were unable to spare crews because they were also dealing with storm outages,” Hudson said. “Our crews did an incredible job safely restoring so many customers in such a short amount of time.”
While strong winter storms are not uncommon in Xcel Energy’s Texas and New Mexico service area, this particular storm came earlier than normal and affected a much larger area than previous storms, Hudson said. It also came in several waves, slowing down the restoration effort in the beginning.
“Many of our Texas customers remember the ice storm of 1999 and Winter Storm Jupiter in 2017,” Hudson said. “Both storms were devastating, but the heaviest impacts of those storms were limited to smaller geographic areas than Winter Storm Billy. In terms of the number of customers affected, Billy takes the prize. We experienced severe damage from Post, Texas, all of the way up to Perryton, Texas.”
Hudson said the company is reviewing all the actions that were taken to prepare for the storm and in restoring power after it arrived. Lessons learned will be applied to the company’s proactive and reactive responses for future storms that are sure to come.
“We never stop learning from these events, but one thing is certain, our communities and our employees are always ready to do what it takes to overcome these hardships,” Hudson said. “We are so thankful for all the help we received across the region, and for the kindnesses shown by our communities and customers to our employees and contractors who worked so hard to restore the region’s power grid.”