Mon, Sep 22, 2014 15:15
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A Walk, A Storm, A Power Outage
 I was caught in a rainstorm yesterday with my spouse and dogs. 

We thought we had plenty of time to make a walk of a few miles.  We saw the storm, and underestimated how close.

Suddenly, 70-mph winds hit with driving rain. Limbs fell down. Later I learned a small plane flipped completely over at an airport two miles away.

Lightning struck to the west, north and northwest. One of the dogs has a problem with thunder, and we took a shortcut straight into the rain, lightning and rain. As we neared our home, we heard a noise like a gunshot.  We felt a bit more alive than usual.

When we got to the house, the power was out.    

Though the phone system we have is a plug-in and was out, I had an iPhone.  I googled TXU as I have to do every year or so to report a power outage.  I found the number, and called it, and immediately was transferred into a loop of Catch-22-like realities.  There was no option for power outages.

I tried to remember the buyout of TXU and who controlled the lines that brought power to me.  I remembered Texas Utilities, of course.  and when it was merged into TU Electric in 1984. 

I remembered when it built Comanche Peak Nuclear Reactors 1 and 2, and my conversations with the long-departed Abner McCall over that project that began in the mid-1970s, lasted through the 1980s with Unit 1 coming on in 1990 and Unit 2 in 1993.  I remembered TU becoming TXU in 1998 with the buyouts of two internation energy groups.  And I remember when it swallowed Lone Star Gas in 1996.  But I lost the threat of events about 2002.  That’s when Texas deregulated the energy market with the intense efforts of David Sibley.

I did remember Oncor, however.  I’d seen an Oncor truck servicing TXU outlets.  So I looked up Oncor.  I was reminded that TXU was bought in a leveraged buyout in 2007 and Oncor Electric Delivery became the name of the electric distribution, Luminant is the electric generation sector, including Comanche Peak nuclear plant, which intends to double its size with two new reactors.  The once dominant TXU Energy is solely a retail provider without any electrical distribution or generator assets.

I punched the number for Oncor and went through the automated menu to report a power outage at 7:01 PM.  The automated prediction for repair was 9 PM.  At 9 PM the automated prediction was midnight. At 1 AM the automated prediction was still midnight and remained that way through 4 AM.  At 4:47 AM I received a call from a serviceman, and met him outside about 5 AM.  He lifted himself in an automated cherrypicker to examine a utility pole just off my property, and by 5:30 AM power came back on. 

The serviceman looked tired, haggard and overworked. I didn’t bewail my wait without electricity. I went to my laptop and reread a July 12th story by Kate Galbraith on electric industry deregulation (http://www.texastribune.org/texas-energy/energy/has-electric-deregulation-helped-or-hurt-texans/).  

Again,I was reminded how the force of an economic storm can sweep through and change the landscape.