Despite statewide fears of rolling blackouts, lights stay on in the Big Bend

PRESIDIO COUNTY — On Monday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asked grid-powered customers across the state to cut down on their electricity use during the hottest part of the day, in an attempt to avoid widespread blackouts. Record heatwaves came early this year to Texas, which suffered through its second-hottest May; Camp Mabry outside of Austin just recorded its hottest June of all time

Texans across the state have been concerned about the state’s power grid shutting down after widespread blackouts during the winter storm of February 2021 claimed the lives of 246 people. In Marfa, people who had braced for “rolling blackouts” of 30 to 45 minutes instead were left without power for days in sub-freezing temperatures — outages that also knocked out basic services like the gas pumps at Stripes.  

Blake Burchard, the external affairs manager at AEP out of San Angelo, was pleased to report that the local grid made it through Monday unscathed. AEP serves as the distribution company for grid electric customers in Presidio County; other providers are responsible for wiring electricity to individual homes and businesses. 

Burchard explained that one unique challenge of providing power to the Big Bend is just how far AEP’s lines must travel to bring power to its most remote residents, but that challenge isn’t enhanced too much by extreme heat or cold. “There’s a lot of distance in the Big Bend area, but our system is in pretty good shape,” he said. 

Despite the region’s tendency for extreme weather, Burchard explained that its energy use trends follow statewide statistics for energy consumption. “In Laredo it stays hot all summer long — not so much in Fort Davis,” he said. “But in the heat of the summer and in the winter, those are our highest demand times.” 

AEP sent out advance notices to customers echoing ERCOT’s call for energy conservation on Monday. In Presidio, Reliant Energy — one of a few retail electric companies serving the area — asked customers to bump up their thermostats a few degrees, unplug nonessential electronics, and wait until after dark to run laundry machines and dishwashers. 

During the winter storm of 2021, Presidio kept the lights on in part thanks to the Big Ol’ Battery, or BOB for short. According to Electric Transmission Texas (ETT), the company that installed the battery, BOB is the first sodium-sulfur backup battery in Texas and the largest in the United States. When the local electrical grid fails, BOB keeps the lights on for city residents.