More than 20,000 Austin Energy customers remained without power shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 6 as utility crews spread across the Austin area work to restore power citywide.
During an afternoon press conference, AE officials said remaining outages will continue to be addressed as some crews wind down their operations in anticipation of thunderstorms coming later this week. And as some mutual aid workers return to their home cities, they said new crews will be brought in to keep pace.
Leaders also said they did not have any updates regarding the timeline for citywide power restoration, and that the utility still projects turning the light back on for "nearly all" affected customers by late Feb. 12.
Craig Brooks, AE's director of field operations, said no crew members have been injured and the utility has not logged any accidents at work sites over multiple days of emergency power restoration work. But as hundreds of crews have blanketed Austin in recent days to address priority outages, AE officials also said workers have been the target of multiple verbal threats from residents as they carried out their duties—in one case requiring a police response.
Posted Feb. 6 10:11 a.m.
Thousands of Austin Energy customers still without power could have to wait nearly a week more for their service to be restored, the utility said late Feb. 5.
Days after winter weather hit Central Texas and led to widespread power outages and property damage across Austin, AE said it has completed around 308,000 power restorations, and 94% of its customers now have power service. However, the utility said it now expects it will take until Feb. 12 to address “nearly all” of the more than 1,200 remaining outages and 27,000 individual customers without power remaining Feb. 6.
AE said remaining outages will likely prove to be the most complex and challenging to respond to, especially with rain showers and thunderstorms expected to roll through over the coming days. Crews working to restore power will prioritize the most critical pieces of the local electrical system, AE said, including customers who have been affected for the longest time so far.
“We continue to restore power to customers and expect many of our remaining affected customers will have electricity before [Feb. 12],” the utility said in a release early Feb. 6. “The expected weather conditions this week may damage power lines and already weakened trees, causing additional outages, increasing the risk for our lineworkers, and slowing progress. Austin Energy will reassess the situation and provide a revised update midweek.”
Customers can continue to report power outages online or by texting 287846. AE also said residents and businesses whose properties have seen electrical damage should contact licensed electricians if the issue is not tied to city equipment or right of way.
We are now focusing on the most complicated & time-consuming restoration efforts. Incoming wind & rain will pose additional challenges. Based on current information, we expect to restore power to nearly all remaining customers by Sunday, Feb. 12.https://t.co/FEPEjNywgi pic.twitter.com/ZHEYkA5VRA— Austin Energy (@austinenergy) February 6, 2023
The city also announced last week that emergency repair permits will be retroactively addressed.
As AE continues to focus on outages citywide, Austin Water said water and wastewater treatment facilities continue to operate normally, and power has been restored to most of its stations that lost service in the past week.
Resources available; signals still out
The city said those without power can call 311 or 512-974-2000 to request an overnight stay in a city shelter with food, water, showers and cots available. Residents requesting shelter will receive calls back between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
AE is running a mobile charging station from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Tony Burger Center, located at 3200 Jones Road. The Central Texas Food Bank will also be offering food at a drive-thru event from 6-8 p.m. at the Delco Activity Center at 4601 Pecan Brook Drive.
“We know it is difficult for customers without power to make plans. Customers without electricity should make the best decisions for their household. We’re doing everything possible to restore power to all our customers,” the city said in the release.
Officials continue to urge caution for drivers in Austin as well with more than two dozen traffic signals citywide still dark amid the ongoing outages.
The Austin Transportation Department said its crews have already reset more than 200 signals, and temporary stop signs have been set up at some major intersections still without power. ATD reminded drivers that dark signals should be treated as all-way stops, and all school zones remain active even if lights are not flashing.
After storm-related disruptions, Capital Metro's transit system is operating on regular schedules, the agency said Feb. 6.
Since Jan. 31, Austin Energy has come under fire from city officials and community members for its preparedness in advance of the winter weather and heavy ice accumulation as well as its public communications through the local disaster.
Mayor Kirk Watson, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 4, has repeatedly apologized for the city's efforts and communication over recent days. And others on City Council have highlighted their frustrations and disappointment with the response in recent messages to constituents.
Council members are expected to receive a briefing on power restoration and other recovery work Feb. 7 and could call for an audit of the utility's weather response and vegetation management practices Feb. 9. A more in-depth review is also expected later this month during a Feb. 21 council session.
That audit request is sponsored by District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly and supported by Council Members Ryan Alter, José Velásquez and Chito Vela. District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool—who chairs council's Austin Energy oversight committee—has expressed her opposition.
Regardless of an audit, AE officials have said they plan to complete an internal after-action report on the utility's response to the weather event in line with similar work taken on in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri.
Those reports and a separate audit of the city's response in early 2021 highlighted issues such as lacking preparations for the severe weather, resilience planning and communication with the public through the storm.