Could Texas-like blackouts happen in Colorado? Not likely, Holy Cross Energy CEO says
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Holy Cross Energy (HCE) CEO and President Bryan Hannegan is a meteorologist, engineer and climate scientist with over 20 years of experience in the energy sector.
Hannegan corresponded over email with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent this week to explain the power grid chaos ongoing in the Southern region, discuss the likelihood of something similar occurring in Colorado and the measures HCE has in place to maintain reliable and sustainable energy service for its members and communities.
- Can you explain what’s happening to the power grids in Texas right now in a way people who aren’t energy/weather experts can understand?
Simply put, there isn’t enough electricity supply to meet consumer demand. Because of the intense cold weather in much of the country, electricity demand for heating is much higher than normal, and the power plants that typically supply that electricity demand aren’t available to do so.
Imports of electricity from neighboring regions are limited both due to the relative lack of interconnection between the Texas grid and the rest of the U.S. and because nearby regions are also experiencing high demand for electricity due to the cold weather.
- Why is a power outage like the one in Texas more likely to happen than one in Colorado/the Western slope?
Colorado and the Western Slope have more familiarity and experience with cold weather conditions on a regular basis, so we have built and maintained our infrastructure to perform well in those colder temperatures. Many of the power plants that Texas relies on for electricity were not “weatherized” to withstand the protracted cold temperatures they’ve seen over the past several days. Colorado is also integrated into larger regional electric grids that are less likely to be simultaneously affected by the high demand for electricity and the lack of power supply that has been the cause of Texas’s rotating outages.
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- What sort of technology do we have in place on our power grids to prevent this sort of thing from happening?
In general, our power plants are designed to operate in temperatures well below freezing, as they often do during the winter months here in Colorado. This includes keeping sensitive components indoors, well insulated and externally heated if need be, designing with backup power conditions and cold weather operations in mind, and operating the electric grid with switching capabilities that enable it to be more resilient to snow and ice events.
- Is there any general advice you can give to someone who is experiencing a power outage/things to watch out for?
Consumers affected by a power outage should contact their local utility to report the outage and get information on when power might be returned to their area. Most utilities offer automated outage alerts, so consumers should sign up on the utility’s website (Xcel and Holy Cross Energy offer this). HCE also has a list of recommendations consumers can take to prepare for an outage on our website. These include having a supply of water, batteries, communications tools, a hand-crank radio, and a first-aid kit available for your use with the power out.
- There have been deaths from Carbon Monoxide in Texas from people who are trying to stay warm in their cars. In an emergency situation like that one, can you provide any safer alternatives to staying warm if one’s power does go out?
Consumers using backup generators of any kind should make sure they are well ventilated and not in an enclosed space, such as a closed garage. If you cannot stay warm at your current location, reach out to your local government for options such as warming centers or shelters that are properly equipped with backup power generation and heat for individuals who need it. Those with special medical needs should also immediately contact their local authorities for assistance.
- Is there anything else you’d like to add about the endurance of our power grids in CO and/or the power outages happening down South?
This week’s weather events in Texas and throughout the Midwest are widespread and unprecedented for those regions, and their energy infrastructure was not designed for this kind of “once in a lifetime” event. Here in Colorado, we see these conditions more often and have an infrastructure that can function effectively in cold weather for extended periods of time.
HCE is working with our members and our local communities to help build energy resilience so that we can all be better prepared for extreme weather events of all kinds. Simple actions, like weatherizing your home with better insulation, can be good steps to improve your energy resilience as well as reduce your monthly energy bills. New technologies offered by HCE, such as battery storage, will also increasingly be options for more energy resilience in our homes, businesses, and communities. We encourage all HCE members who are interested in these options to visit our website or contact us by phone at 970-945-5491.