By Rose Luna and Dave Miller
Killeen Daily Herald
Hot temperatures across Central Texas on Monday and a shortage of electricity forced power utilities to conduct rolling blackouts, a scenario played out across the state.
By lunchtime on Monday, the temperature had hit 90 degrees and rapidly increased to a record 100 degrees by late afternoon. The previous high for April 17 was 93.
As the temperatures soared, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's electricity grid, declared an emergency and ordered rolling blackouts across the state to prevent a regional outage.
Ronnie Roark, manager of TXU Electric Delivery in Killeen, said the unexpected spring heat was a factor in the localized power outages, which were conducted as part of a managed emergency plan.
According to the Associated Press, ERCOT issued the blackout request after concluding there was insufficient generating power in the region to reliably serve the public's electricity demand.
Roark said routine maintenance, which is common this time of year, might have limited the load capacity. Late Monday, ERCOT spokesman Paul Wattles confirmed to the AP that 15 percent of the state's power supply was already off-line for seasonal maintenance in anticipation of summer peak energy consumption.
In addition, four generating plants unexpectedly shut down, Wattles said.
Roark explained that the state's electric power grid experienced a load problem, and ERCOT issued a request to TXU to shed 380 megawatts statewide.
A TXU news release noted that one megawatt is enough power for approximately 210 homes.
Roark said western Killeen was among the first areas to experience a blackout after the order was issued just after 4 p.m.
TXU continued to implement outages every 15 minutes in pre-designated areas across the state.
As the blackouts kicked in, offices grew dark and quiet as lights clicked off and air conditioners fell silent.
The outage forced a temporary closure of the drive-through area of Extraco Bank on Jasper Road, where orange cones were placed in each lane.
Busy intersections in portions of Killeen became bottlnecks as the traffic signals shut off.
Police arrived on the scene to direct traffic at some of the affected intersections.
Roark said he notified Killeen City Manager Connie Green shortly after the blackout process started.
"It's kind of like having a breaker that keeps tripping," Roark said.
"You have to shut everything off and then bring it back online."
Roark said the Killeen area has 25 to 30 different circuits, and he estimates two or three were affected by Monday's power cuts.
Wattles said typical usage for Texas in April is about 42,000 megawatts a day, but Monday's statewide total was 52,000 megawatts.
"You may plan for the power use associated with a 93-degree day, but then the temperature hits 100 and the usage goes up another 5 percent," Roark said.
"That can cause load problems."
By 6:30 p.m., Killeen police reported power was restored at all city intersections with traffic signals.
The AP reported that the rolling blackouts were limited to the ERCOT grid, which provides electricity to about 80 percent of the state. ERCOT said its power grid had to decrease by 1,000 megawatts.
By early Monday evening, ERCOT said operations were back to normal.
TXU spokeswoman said Carol Peters "went exactly as we planned."
The affected area served by TXU ranged from West Texas to East Texas, and from the Texas-Oklahoma border to Round Rock, Peters said.
ERCOT urged customers to restrict their use of electricity when possible, including setting thermostats to 78 degrees.
The National Weather Service attributed Monday's unusual heat to a high-pressure area over the area.
"You would get the same effect if you started to boil a pot of water with warm water instead of cold," said Dan Shoemaker, meteorologist with the weather service.
But relief is on its way.
According to Nick Piesco, a meterologist with KCEN-TV, a cold front will start to move in tonight that will usher in temperatures in the upper 70s for Wednesday.
The front is expected to stall over Central Texas through the weekend, bringing better chances for a substantial amount of rain and temperatures in the lower 80s, said Piesco.
"It doesn't look severe," he said. "Just much-needed rain."
"It will start to feel a little more like spring at the end of the week," Piesco said. "Just hang with the hot weather."
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