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Houston Considers Microgrids after Winter Outages


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In the wake of the devastation Texas experienced during Winter Storm Uri , the city of Houston is considering setting up microgrids for critical infrastructure such as water treatment facilities.

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By Thomas Bethge/Shutterstock.com

The mid-February storm brought frigid temperatures to Texas, freezing power plants and natural gas equipment while electricity use soared. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs most of the grid in the state, responded by ordering blackouts that last for four days affecting about 4.5 million utility customers.

About a dozen generators at a water treatment plant failed to work during the storm, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a March 31 City Council meeting.

“Many of those generators where there were problems were purchased after Hurricane Ike in 2008,” Turner said. “I’ve instructed public works to address that situation such that these generators will automatically turn on — or we’re looking to another system, whether it’s microgrids that would tie into the Texas grid or some system that would automatically turn on and the power would never turn off.”

The City Council’s Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee is waiting for a report on the city’s options for microgrids or additional backup generation from Houston Public Works.

Houston seeing more frequent storms

Houston has been hit with more frequent and serve weather since Hurricane Rita in 2005, Turner said March 24 during a hearing on the Texas power outages held by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee.

In the latest storm, Houston, the fourth largest US city, lost power and water, which affected many critical facilities.

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“The combination of no power and low water pressure affected hospitals, police stations, dialysis clinics, people with special needs and the ability of firefighters to fight fires,” Turner said.

Pointing to the damage caused by the power outages in Houston, Turner said that about 50,000 homes and 400 apartment complexes had busted water pipes.

At its March 31 meeting, the Houston City Council approved about $9.5 million in infrastructure repairs, mainly to the city’s water system. City officials expect Houston will spend about $19 million recovering from the storm.

The city is adding more redundancy to its water and wastewater systems and priority assets, according to Turner.

The city is also exploring pilot initiatives using microgrids to provide around the clock power when there are power outages, he said.

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Houston is familiar with microgrids. The city last year entered into a contract with Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based microgrid company, for a 30-MW microgrid to serve a water purification plant.

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