A week after the winter storm struck Texas, rural electric cooperatives are still facing problems that urban cooperatives are not. Unlike their counterparts, rural providers must make electricity available to small numbers of people over huge areas.
Some Hill Country residents have been without power for 10 days or more. The Central Texas Electric Cooperative (CTEC) General Manager Bob Loth said what happened last week was the proverbial perfect storm.
“Eight days subfreezing temperatures, the roads were closed. We had difficulty getting help in. We’ve got crews on the ground now. We started getting them on Saturday,” said Loth. “We’ve got somewhere between 20 and probably closer to 25 crews out working now.”
He added the CTEC crews are working from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. — seven days a week — to turn the lights back on for about 5,000 customers.
The CTEC region that was hit particularly hard during last week’s extreme weather event was in southwestern Gillespie County and northeastern Kerr County.
“There are stretches of line in multiple places where there are 10, 15, 20 poles in a row that are laid over on the ground. And when I say they’re laid over on the ground, they’re snapped off like matchsticks,” Loth said.
“They all need to be replaced, and that’s not a fast process, even in the best of weather.”
Connie Gilbert and her husband Steve retired to Kerr County just last year. She said they built their dream home and enjoy living there, but the winter storm changed all of that.
By Saturday, Feb. 13, they lost power. They kept a roaring fire going in the fireplace, but when the cold house became too much to bear, they headed to a hotel in Kerrville. But that comfort didn’t last long.
“On the 15th, they (the hotel) lost power. And so we checked out of there and went and stayed with my daughter in New Braunfels,” Gilbert said.
Rolling power outages in New Braunfels were better than no power at all.
Last Friday Gilbert was able to get through to CTEC and ask what they needed to know: when would they get electricity back?
“She said, ‘I’ll not gonna sugarcoat it — where y’all are located from where the substation is… it could take four weeks before we get to you,’” Gilbert recounted.
But Loth said he’s sure it won’t take that long to bring back the power. He aims to have the number of customers without power to around 500 or 1,000 homes.
He doesn’t know where the Gilberts live, so he admits he can’t be exact, but he’s sure it will be soon.
“But I can’t overpromise and under deliver,” said Loth.
Connie Gilbert feared the worst after being without heat for so long, but her biggest worry about burst water lines didn’t come to pass. As of Tuesday she reported no leaks.
For now, they’re borrowing an RV from a daughter and are looking for a generator to power it. Bob Loth doesn’t think his crews can repair the lines any quicker than they are.
“We’re handing them a bag on the way out with breakfast and lunch in it. They’re working all day. They come in at 10 o’clock at night and we’re feeding them and spinning in a bed so they are ready to go the next morning again,” said Loth.
For now, the Gilberts and hundreds of other customers will have to keep waiting.