Austin Energy produced more power than it consumed for most of last month’s winter storm – a ratio that suggests the utility will avoid the financial hit that less-productive electric service companies have taken, such as San Antonio’s CPS Energy, which racked up $1 billion in bills.
Austin Energy’s leaders presented production versus consumption data on Wednesday, informing an Austin City Council oversight committee that the utility’s power plants performed well at a time when 180-plus other facilities in the state did not function, or gave little output, due to subfreezing conditions.
The findings suggest Austin Energy was in the advantageous position of being an electricity seller, rather than only a buyer, when the state’s electric grid nearly collapsed and the price of energy skyrocketed.
“In most cases, our generation was in excess of our load,” said Austin Energy deputy general manager Sidney Jackson.
Austin Energy is not only a consumer in the state’s electric grid, but also a supplier. The utility operates three natural gas-powered plants in the Austin area and two power plants outside Austin — one powered by coal, the other by nuclear fuel.
The American-Statesman reached out Wednesday to Austin Energy to see if the utility believed it actually made money during the energy crisis. Calily Bien, a spokeswoman with the utility, said Wednesday evening that she was looking into it.
Wednesday’s presentation to the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee – which includes all City Council members – lasted a little more than an hour and went into more specifics than last week’s meeting the council called to address Austin Energy and Austin Water executives.
As part of his presentation, Austin Energy’s Jackson displayed a graphic showing that power generation totals were higher than consumption for all but a few brief periods during Feb. 11-19.
Notably, generation was consistently higher, often by big margins, starting in the early hours of Feb. 15 when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, ordered utilities statewide to cut back on their energy use, equaling a total reduction of 19,500 megawatts. ERCOT manages the power grid for most of the state.
Austin Energy, which accounted for 3.7% of the statewide cuts, responded by killing power to every customer wired to a circuit that was not also wired to such critical infrastructure as hospitals, police, fire service and the downtown grid.
“Austin Energy’s renewable resources were measurable and impactful not only in assisting ERCOT’s demand but assisting Austin Energy in terms of minimizing our price volatility to the ERCOT price swings,” Jackson said.
In total, 220,000 customers lost power, about 40% of the city. Austin Energy has refused to turn over a list or map of all facilities it deems critical, citing an exception in the Texas Public Information Act that gives discretion to electric utilities to withhold certain information for security reasons.
Austin Energy Vice President Pat Sweeney said power plants used by the utility went through a winterization process prior to the storm to protect from extreme cold weather. Still, even though most plants were able to operate, there were issues with control lines absorbing moisture and freezing, he said.
“Fortunately for us, we were able to turn back around those issues relatively quickly,” he said, adding that it took a little longer at the South Texas nuclear plant in Bay City.