Saturday, January 17, 2009

Entergy and reliability in The Woodlands Texas

We were quite fortunate here to have Entergy as our electric provider after Hurricane Ike. It was significantly ahead of restoring the service when compared to Centerpoint, the other Woodlands electric provider. However in post storm experiences, we have seen a bit of a different story. The worse case of Entergy reliability in The Woodlands has been right here in Indian Springs Village. 4 There were so many outages in 2008, residents here grew accustomed to it. 2008 was the year of Hurricane Ike. That mere fact influenced our willingness to accept a lowered standard of reliability. So why should we really care anyway? We are billed for usage, not availability.

The storm laid sort of a mist over the eyeglasses of residents. Some residents complained, but the vast majority just became complacent and felt that this would get cleaned up sometime, just like other storm issues. Those who complained, whom I know, were generally at home during the day and night and knew when the outages occurred. Some were watching their favorite TV shows, others working on their computers, still others cooking or warming up some food when those outages occurred. But there has been some tough residents who still demanded reliability, despite the storm. Some residents had damaged appliances and electronic devices. Those who have commercial dependencies on electricity were certainly adversely affected. One might expect them to have surge protection power strips and I believe they all do, but sudden outages are apt to have software issues on some units anyway. One might also expect the consumer to protect himself with battery operated emergency power. That usually works for computers but some people do not like to spend the money on something they believe should not be an issue.

Entergy recognizes that there has been a significant problem here. With the history of the area and after the hurricane, they ran analyses on the cables, switch boxes and all other local components. Today, they are in the midst of executing a project plan that mitigates the issues found. These actions will be completed by the end of the second quarter this year. Generally, the outages here were related to cable failures. 4Trees were uprooted in the storm, straining some cables and damaging others. Some of the cable outages occurred before the storm however, so we have to take that prognosis with a grain of salt. There were no cables accidentally cut in 2008, so the issues are all infrastructure, not human induced.

Our outages were almost totally due to cable failures. Those found to be faulty were repaired in the November/December time frame, but the mitigation project is not over. There will be some long scheduled outages this quarter and next quarter to upgrade some other components in the service line. We can expect some residents to experience a four hour outage in some of the scheduled outages.

Indian Springs is on one primary feeder circuit, but it also has a backup circuit. That circuit will not automatically cut in unless there is a total failure of the primary circuit. If only a partial outage, a manual switch to the backup circuit is required. A work crew has to be dispatched to make that manual switch. It is worthy to note that as in virtually all power circuits, there are single points of failure. The closer the electricity gets to a residence, the more risk of a single point of failure to his home. There are no backups close to the home. Large area outages are reported automatically back to the central service computers. But where failures occur near the end of small circuits, near the customer, only resident calls will trigger a help response. There are other facilities outside of The Woodlands that can also cause total failure to the area. Of course Entergy is able to detect those as well.

If you have an outage, what do you do? You have an outage reporting number on your bill. This information is also published on the Entergy website. To report an outage, call 1-800-968-8243. Write this number down in a place you can access easily and use it! I have it programmed in my cell phone. That way, if I have no home phone operational due to lack of electricity, I can take my cell phone somewhere else or perhaps even use it from the house, to report an outage. Entergy will provide assistance and after the recovery, they will help you to understand what happened at your home, even providing circuit diagrams if you need them.

We should expect a maximum of three unplanned outages a year. I am told that is a fairly well known benchmark number in Texas. The Texas Utility Commission measures the performance of an electric provider against a statistical mean statewide. That number is used to compare providers. Each provider is obligated to provide uninterrupted service within a reasonable percentage of that norm. Our service interruptions have added up to an abnormally high number for much of the past year, compared to this area and statewide as well. The PUC (Public Utility Commission) "establishes service standards for regulated electric companies".6

Some residents might would like to visualize outages in a map view that is located on the Entergy website, so I am providing a link to that site. 2 Readers may want to know where the website FAQ is also.1

There is an interesting article about Lubbock and its competitive electrical service provision. True competitive electrical service has been a common discussion item among many for years. Texas prides itself in having competitive administration and billing providers, but the blog below looks at it from the physical delivery provider's perspective. That blog has an interesting authorship and view about competition, the technicalities involved about competing at the wire distribution level instead of the sales/billing level, and the effect of political regulations within our state on true competitive practices. 3
1 Entergy FAQ information - http://www.entergy.com/faq/default.aspx
2 Entergy Circuit Status information - http://entergy-texas.com/outages/tx.aspx
3 "Even in Texas Competition Between Electric Wires is Prohibited Except in Lubbock", Knowledge Problem, January 15 2009, http://knowledgeproblem.com/2009/01/15/even-in-texas-competition-between-electric-wires-companies-is-prohibited-except-in-lubbock/
4 Entergy spokesperson
5 "Electric Service in Texas", Texas Public Utility Commission, http://www.puc.state.tx.us/ocp/electric/index.cfm
6 "What the PUC Regulates", Entergy website, http://www.puc.state.tx.us/ocp/complaints/regulate.cfm

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