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Slow Going for Texas' Massive Post-Ike Electric Restoration

Hurricane Ike caused the largest blackout in Texas history when it roared ashore at Galveston Sept. 14, and it went on to knock out power to millions from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Nearly two million customers, most in the Houston and Galveston area, remained powerless on Friday, and the utilities serving the region warned that some customers could be without electricity into October.

Ike slammed into the Texas coast at Galveston as a Category Two hurricane, bringing with it torrential rain, a storm surge in excess of 20 feet and maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. At least 27 Ike-related deaths in eight states from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes were reported. Hurricane force winds were reported across the Ohio Valley before the dissipating storm moved into southeastern Canada.

The day after Ike struck, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said preliminary estimates from transmission and distribution providers indicated that it could take three to four weeks to get all load restored. According to ERCOT, 114 high-voltage transmission lines, including six 345-kV lines in the Houston-Galveston area, were disabled by the storm.

Ike remained powerful well on its way north. As the storm's remnants rolled through Indiana its 75 mph winds knocked out power to nearly 300,000 Duke Energy Indiana customers; approximately one million FirstEnergy Corp. customers lost power in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The damage from Hurricane Ike was worst in Texas, where two small utilities -- Mid South Synergy and Sam Houston -- saw 100% outages, and millions of customers were left without power for days, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Ike also damaged offshore natural gas pipelines, platforms and rigs and flooded onshore gas processing facilities; a lack of power hampered a quick return to normal operations last week for Gulf Coast facilities (see related story).

Nearly all of the homes and businesses in CenterPoint Energy's service territory were without power in the hours after Ike came ashore; by the next day CenterPoint had only restored a small portion of its service territory. CenterPoint is in charge of the transmission system that spreads from Houston to Galveston.

Entergy reported Ike-related peak outages of 392,600 in Texas, 50,500 in Louisiana and 179,000 in Arkansas. Ike caused outages for 99% of Entergy Texas customers, the most in the company's history. Damage in Texas was more extensive than that caused by Hurricane Rita in 2005, the company said. "Restoration for Hurricane Ike may take several weeks," an Entergy spokesman said.

Transmission outages caused by Ike included 278 of 312 substations and 183 of 187 transmission lines out of service in Texas; 38 of 39 substations and four of 11 transmission lines in Arkansas; and 51 substations and 37 lines in Louisiana. Up to four feet of water flooded Entergy's Sabine Power plant in Bridge City, TX, causing extensive damage that could take weeks to repair.

A large force of restoration workers began descending on Entergy Texas the day after Ike hit. Energy providers said the complete loss of systems -- which apparently was not anticipated -- made progress to restore power slow. One of the only areas of Houston that maintained its power during and after the storm was a portion of downtown, where the transmission lines are buried underground.

Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, said, "in terms of outages, this is as big as we've seen."

On Tuesday Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an emergency proclamation granting utilities the authority to enter public and private property and install temporary electric transmission lines to restore power in East Texas and along the coast (see Power Market Today, Sept. 18). Perry took the same action following Hurricane Rita in 2005.

Utilities still faced nearly 1.9 million outages on Friday, most of them in Texas, DOE said. At 3 p.m. EDT Friday more than 1.4 million electric customers in Texas were without power, as were 313,400 in Ohio, 121,900 in Kentucky, 23,340 in Indiana, 14,786 in Louisiana and 4,470 in Pennsylvania, DOE said.

CenterPoint reported 1.1 million outages in Texas Friday afternoon, about 54% of the utility's electric customers in the state, DOE said. CenterPoint had restored power to more than 941,000 customers since Ike hit and expected to have at least 80% restoration in all of its service regions by Monday. Entergy Texas had 189,950 outages (48%); Texas-New Mexico Power Co. 29,428 (26%); Oncor 9,400 (5%); and the state's cooperatives 67,670 (15%).

More than half of the Entergy customers whose utility service was interrupted by Ike have had power restored, Entergy said Friday. The company said the pace of restoration will continue to quicken and 80% of all southeast Texas customers will have service restored by Thursday (Sept. 25). "After the initial period of assessment and certain repairs made to restore the Lewis Creek Power Plant [in Montgomery County, TX] and key transmission lines, we have restored more than 200,000 customers in three days," Entergy said.

Some areas, including Taylor Landing, Sabine Pass and Bolivar Peninsula remained flooded and no restoration date has been set. Flood waters that caused extensive damage at Entergy's Sabine Power plant in Bridge City, TX, have receded, and safety assessment and environmental cleanup has begun.

Entergy's 936 MW River Bend nuclear plant in St. Francisville, LA, which was taken out of service Sept. 1 to help keep the electricity transmission grid in balance due to reduced demand, remained shutdown pending repairs to siding on its turbine building that was damaged by the storm.

Duke Energy Ohio and Duke Energy Kentucky, which had seen outages peak at 700,000 as 70-mph winds from the remnants of Ike tore through northern Kentucky and the Cincinnati area Sunday afternoon, have restored power to approximately 570,000 customers and hope to restore power to all customers by the end of the weekend, the companies said Friday.

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