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Water, Electric Companies Tout Improvements During Hard Freeze

As snow began to fall throughout the Borderland, many may have had flashbacks to the February freeze that crippled utility companies in El Paso.

A sustained cold caused outages for El Paso Electric, which in turn led to rolling blackouts throughout the city. That same cold left many El Pasoans high and dry as issues arose for El Paso Water Utilities.

?This was historic low temperatures for the city of El Paso, something we?d never experienced before,? said Christina Montoya, Vice President of Communications for El Paso Water Utilities.

While the storm in February packed a punch, it also taught local utility companies a lesson. Damage sustained to the water plants throughout El Paso has since been repaired, while engineers have developed new instrumentation to stop pipes from freezing and sensors from shutting down due to cold temperatures, Montoya said.

Similar techniques were implemented at the Newman power plant owned by El Paso Electric Company. Cold weather froze water sensing lines that are used to relay information from each unit to the main control room. That data is used to control pressure, and other important factors that protect millions of dollars worth or electrical equipment.

?All these controls have automatic trips and these devices can get a false high, or a false low,? explained El Paso Electric?s Vice President of Power Generation Andy Ramirez. ?In the case of a frozen sensor line, it will trip the unit to protect all of these devices.?

Millions of dollars worth of power plant equipment was potentially saved when those ?tripped? units went offline in February, but the failure also left thousands of customers in the dark.

In March, El Paso Electric hired Black & Veatch, a global engineering and consultant firm, to help pinpoint what the issues were in February and determine how operations could improve. That led to improvements throughout the plant including new insulation and heating cords for sensing lines that protect delicate sensors from cold temperatures as low as minus-10 degrees. Prior to the changes, lines were only graded to handle temperatures as low as 15 degrees. They also implemented new heating blankets, heaters, and insulated boxes that keep equipment functioning at optimal temperatures.

?We?ve addressed the problem from last February, and we?re confident we?re good to go,? said Ramirez.

While the upgrades from both utilities are meant to help customers, they?re still urged to take caution. According to Christina Montoya, customers still need to help themselves. The biggest factor in last year?s water issues were customers whose homes were plagued by burst pipes. Montoya said many customers don?t realize they?re responsible for the water line that runs from the meter to their home. Those lines need to be insulated, as do exposed pipes and faucets around your home.

Montoya said that thousands of customers’ pipes burst in February, which compounded the problems the utility had.

?As you can imagine, that only increased the demand for water that was already going on,? said Montoya.

EPWU Video:Learn how to shut off your water meter

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