JONESBORO — Considering all the challenges, City Water and Light fared well during the past week’s snow storms and extremely cold temperatures.
But customers will have a higher price to pay in the coming months, due not only to higher consumption, but higher fuel costs, spokesman Kevan Inboden said.
“Overall, our system as a whole performed well considering the circumstances,” Inboden said.
While some utilities across the state and nation had to resort to brief outages in some areas, CWL had only one brief forced outage in the eastern industrial sector that also affected some residential customers Tuesday night.
One factor in avoiding more forced outages was the use of CWL’s five gas-fired turbine generators, which offset the statewide demand. However, generation was limited because of a shortage of natural gas nationally, he said.
Peak demand on Tuesday set a record at 11 a.m. that day at 296 megawatts, 21 MW higher than the previous record. At the time, the temperature was 8 degrees with a wind chill factor of -11, Inboden said. The all time record peak was 303 MW, on Aug. 3, 2011.
“We had some pockets of outages we dealt with and obviously we feel bad for those customers and we’ve already talked about ways we can improve out there,” Inboden said.
Sage Meadows was hardest hit with a massive outage on Monday.
“The issue with them is it’s such a large subdivision with large homes that’s on the extreme edge of the city,” Inboden said. A few years ago, CWL built a second distribution line into the eastern side of that community to provide a backup source of additional power. Now, Inboden said, as the subdivision continues to grow, one or two more distribution lines will need to be fed into that area. The additional lines will allow CWL to divide the load among multiple sources during peak demand, he said.
Under normal conditions, electric heat pumps are economical.
“When you have those extreme conditions, you just see multiples of electricity usage in those heat pumps and it really loads up our infrastructure out there,” he said.
The water system has experienced some broken pipes, due to freezing, but even there, it was less of a problem than many cities experienced.
Electricity customers in Texas are already reporting huge bills as a result of the frigid conditions there. The bills in Jonesboro will be higher, but Inboden said it’s too early to say how much higher.
“We have not seen enough data from our customers’ meter readings; we’ll probably start to see some of that next week,” Inboden said. “We’ll work with customers. Hopefully our customers won’t have significant issues with paying the bills as a whole, but we always have and we’ll continue to work with customers who need help with how that repayment is done.”
Inboden said he and many other customers take advantage of budget billing, also known as levelized billing, in which customers pay a set amount each month based on the previous year’s usage history.
Another factor in billing is the wholesale cost of the fuel used to generate electricity.
“Wholesale energy prices were high. Natural gas prices were high. Wholesale electricity prices were high,” Inboden said. “So the dust has not settled on all that, we’ll get bills over the month for those activities over those three days or so.
Inboden said those higher fuel costs will be passed on to customers as an energy adjustment cost that will be spread out over 12 months.