After 29 years in the energy industry, there’s not much I haven’t witnessed—that is, until the historic winter freeze of February 14-19, 2021. The unprecedented weather conditions posed challenges never-before-seen in GVEC’s 83 years of service.
During each year’s early months, it’s not uncommon for South Texas to experience a few bursts of colder weather, even icy conditions for a day or two. This winter storm was different. With consecutive days of temperatures in the teens and single digits, heaters across Texas worked overtime. This drove record winter energy usage across the state to 69,222 MW, the highest winter peak the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ (ERCOT) existence. ERCOT is the governing entity responsible for coordinating energy supply to meet demand across the Texas grid and covers approximately 90% of Texas customers. On an average winter day, ERCOT sees about 43,000 MW of electricity usage statewide.
In compliance with ERCOT’s EEA Level 3 mandate, GVEC and other ERCOT Texas utilities deployed rotating outages to avoid a total blackout of the electrical grid, which could have taken weeks up to a month to repair. GVEC initiated 124 sessions of rotating outages with approximately 15,000 members included on average from early on February 15 to the morning of February 19. (See a more detailed timeline of events on pages 20-21.)
In the midst of the rotating outages, some members also experienced extended service outages ranging from hours to days. At peak, approximately 5,000 members, exclusive of those in the rotating outages, were without power. Restoration was delayed as ice and snow covered the 3,500 square miles of GVEC service area. Our linemen battled difficult road conditions, downed power lines, damaged equipment and fatigue, working long hours in below freezing temperatures throughout the multiple days. Staff worked around the clock processing outage reports and planning restoration efforts.
This historic storm wreaked havoc in many ways. Traditional and renewable energy sources failed due to the effects of the hard freeze, making energy scarce. This caused market prices to increase to the top levels allowed by the Texas Public Utility Commission—up to $9.00 per kilowatt-hour. This is the real-time utilities had to pay to purchase power, if their load was greater than the amount procured under bilateral contracts with suppliers. Because demand for power was so much greater than could have reasonably been anticipated, most load-serving entities like GVEC did not have all of their load covered through power supply arrangements and were required to purchase portions of their load from the real-time market. Fortunately for GVEC and its members, the Cooperative went into this event with a strong financial position and a power supply procurement strategy that helped protect against these extreme market prices. This is not to say that GVEC came through unsaved; rather, GVEC came through in a way that can be managed while not dramatically impacting the rates of our members.
At the February 2021 Board meeting, the GVEC Board of Directors made the decision to postpone any increase in rates until a later time. The ability to not raise rates immediately benefited member by allowing them to get through the high-use billing cycle resulting from that week’s weather. Below-freezing temperatures drove record usage as heaters ran constantly to battle the extraordinary cold. As always, GVEC committed to extending payment arrangements and offering tools and resources to help members cope with the high bills associated with this unforeseeable event.
As we’ve said throughout our communications, we will likely need to raise the G&T rate at some point. We’re taking time to consider all options to design a rate that will recover the necessary costs over multiple years and lessen the overall impact to our members as much as possible. Strategies currently under serious consideration would result in no more than a $10-$15 per month increase for an average bill of 1500 kWh, and I feel confident in our position to be able to balance the needs of the Cooperative while keeping rates competitive.
To keep up to date with the latest information, I encourage you to follow GVEC on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and on our website at gvec.org. As always, I am interested in your comments and feedback. Contact me by phone at 830.857.1152, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 118, Gonzales, Texas 78629.