Tdworld 10140 Centerpoint Flooded Substation 1 0

Hurricane Harvey Blog: When No News is Good News

Sept. 9, 2017
The challenge for electric utilities is no less dire, but of a different nature

News over the air waves in Texas is still about Harvey, but also increasingly about the predicted arrival of Harvey’s nasty twin sister Irma set for Florida this weekend. I arrive in Houston at the end of the day yesterday, and all things considered there are not many outward signs of distress, as I had expected to see based on all the news footage from earlier this week. Clearly flood waters have receded, and early this morning, I saw the statistic that some 99.85 percent of Houston residents have had electric power turned back on at their homes and businesses. So — life goes on; a trip to downtown Houston features as bad traffic as is customary here, but results in little to see. Strong flowing waters near the University of Houston downtown campus, a tree down and a couple of businesses with furnishings or trash on the streets. Nothing, though, like the scene in downtown New Orleans after Katrina.

The bright, sunny day also almost fools one into thinking Harvey hardly happened — but a drive into neighborhoods west and southwest of downtown reveals a couple of residential areas that are strewn with debris on the streets, as well as uniformed police officers with signs that say “Flooded Area — Do Not Enter,” turning back cars and snarling traffic even further.

In comparing the scene between the Corpus Christi area and Houston, clearly further south the damage was more about wind (also closer to the Gulf); while Houston was all about water, with record rainfall turning streets into raging rivers. Thus the challenge for electric utilities is no less dire, but of a different nature. In Corpus Christi, overhead lines and downed poles dominate the day, while in Houston there is not nearly as much of that, visible, as there is the specter of cleaning up underground duct banks and de-watering both below and above ground.

An example is CenterPoint’s Memorial Substation, located in the southwestern part of the city. Some 5700 customers lost power when floodwaters subsumed many of the key circuits of Memorial, and the utility is not able to restore power to everyone at the same time without risking failure, so customers have been added over the past few days using a mobile substation that CenterPoint brought in to do the job.

Watch for more on this and on Houston flood recovery in our upcoming T&D HOW Hurricanes Supplement.

As for me, I’ll be watching the Weather Channel some more, ready to head to Florida next week, depending on what Irma decides to do. 

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