New Braunfels Utilities has been in the process of assessing its performance during the February winter storm that resulted in rotating outages for thousands of New Braunfels residents as well as significant plumbing damage.

In the meantime, NBU is developing an emergency preparedness plan to comply with Senate Bill 3—or the winterization bill—passed by the Texas Legislature in the 2021 regular session this spring, according to Melissa Krause, chief communications officer for NBU. Findings from the most recent Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, or SARA, by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued Nov. 19 show that the agency expects the Texas electrical grid to have enough generation capacity to meet “typical” seasonal demands this winter. ERCOT expects a peak demand for power at 62,001 megawatts this winter and that the grid can meet that demand with 84,861 MW of generation capacity, the agency reported. Among the ongoing work for future preparedness efforts in the event of another catastrophic winter storm, NBU conducted a “tabletop exercise” to simulate a response to a protracted freeze event, hired an engineer to perform a winterization study and made updates to its emergency management plan, NBU CEO Ian Taylor said.

“We went into the winter storm with no outages, and when the rotating outages started and the rotating outages were done, we had no outages left. We really didn’t have anything significant weather-related on the electric side,” Taylor said. “On the water side, we did have a few issues. The reason we lost pressure was because of private plumbing leaks and just the extraordinary number of them,” Taylor said.

A winterization study as part of SB 3 is forthcoming, said Ryan Kelso, chief operations officer for NBU, but NBU has already taken steps to deal with obvious issues, he said.

“We did privately take care of the obvious issues that reared their head during the storm, and there were just a handful of maybe half a dozen items that were vulnerabilities that we’ve now winterized in preparation for the next winter. And so, part of that study is also being analyzed is the need for backup generation. That will be a requirement of SB 3,” Kelso said. Backup generation units are required by SB 3 to maintain water pressures of 20 pounds per square inch throughout the water delivery system to prevent boil water notices and freezing of plumbing lines.

“With the supply chains like they are, it creates a rush on generators, and so we’re working with [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] as are everyone else in the state to walk through the compliance timelines to ensure that we can meet those dates within reason,” Kelso said.

Taylor said that the utility has an advantage to better handle leveraging power to both pump stations and electrical needs because they are both controlled in one control center, allowing for better coordination between the water and electricity sides of the utility.

Kelso said that if it were not for customer side leaks—any plumbing that is maintained by and the responsibility of a homeowner or business—system water pressure would have been maintained throughout the weather event. “We have deployed [Advanced Metering Infrastructure] meters throughout our system. We were able to identify over 5,000 customer-side leaks,” Kelso said. “If a customer’s meter is running continuously for 24 hours, it throws an alert that there’s a leak on the system. We were able to proactively go out and assist property owners ... and then restore the larger system much quicker,” Kelso said.

Weathering the next storm

New Braunfels Utilities is providing customers with a number of ways to better communicate with customers.

• Distribute timely updates through the county’s emergency notification system

• After-hours and virtual energy bill consultations

• Allow customers to set electric and water usage thresholds with smart meters

• Providing utility consumption reports to predict what usage might be under peak demand

• Online residential rate calculators to estimate higher bills due to peak use

• Rebate programs for customers to purchase smart thermostats

• Guidance on best landscaping practices for drought tolerance

• Weather data archives that allow for predicting higher bills

Source: New Braunfels Utilities/Community Impact Newspaper