Local grid improvements underway to prevent cold-weather power outages amid winter weather

PRESIDIO — Local officials are spreading the word about a cold front forecasted to hit Presidio County Wednesday night, with a hard freeze predicted for most of the county through the weekend. While the northeastern part of the county will bear the brunt of a potential winter storm, Presidio residents are being advised to stay put and stock up. 

The City of Presidio is taking adequate precautions by informing neighbors of the coming weather and winterizing the city’s buildings and fleet. After a brief power outage affecting roughly half the city’s customers during the last cold snap on January 21, some residents are concerned — the low for that day was 28 degrees, and this weekend’s temperatures are expected to drop as low as 17. 

City Administrator Brad Newton said that while the most recent power outage was likely connected to the cold weather, it wasn’t due to improper winterization. “The problem was a short at the end of the line,” he explained. When the grid’s automated systems signaled distress, AEP shut off the breakers individually and isolated the problem to a line heading east from Presidio to Redford. That line crosses the river at Polvo and delivers electricity to the small town of El Mulato, Chihuahua. 

On that unusually cold morning, the cross-river circuit was running ten times its normal capacity, prompting a system failure. The outage came as a surprise to both officials and residents alike — a backup power source called the Big Ol’ Battery kept the lights on in Presidio during February 2021’s devastating winter storm, even as other communities in the Big Bend lost electricity. 

This time, however, “BOB did not fail because BOB wasn’t needed,” Newton explained. “BOB kicks in if a storm takes something out between here and Marfa.” Because the most recent outage concerned a problem on the line 20 miles east of Presidio, it didn’t trigger BOB’s activation system, and the outage was isolated only to customers living or working along that line. 

In the weeks since, AEP and the Comisión Federal de Electricidad, Mexico’s state-owned power company, have used the conference room at Presidio City Hall as a meeting place to strategize repairs to the line. “[This weekend] I don’t foresee any serious problems with the electrical system. I think it should do well for us,” Newton said. 

Still, officials are concerned about elderly Presidio residents who may not be prepared for temperatures in the teens. Presidio Fire Chief Saul Pardo Jr. advised that city residents who fill their propane in Ojinaga will want to top off their supply before the cold weather hits, and that folks who rely on electricity for home healthcare needs, such as oxygen delivery systems, are advised to take extra precautions. Indoor and outdoor water pipes can be protected with insulation or a slow water drip. Outdoor animals should be brought inside or given adequate shelter — the predicted wind chill can be extremely dangerous for animals. “Make sure your dogs have protection against the cold,” he cautioned. 

The Alpine Humane Society took to regional Facebook groups to provide more details about what a protected shelter for outdoor pets should look like: “If, for some reason, you cannot bring them in[side], please get straw, hay, or wood shavings and put a thick layer in their outdoor shelter. Do not use blankets or other fabrics in their shelter. They will get wet and become cold and very uncomfortable.”