Mark Cayce knows firsthand what hurricanes can do to coastal Texas, so the CEO of Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp., was glad to have a houseful of guests in south Arkansas when Harvey made its arrival Aug. 25.
Cayce saw many damaging storms as operations manager of Jackson Electric Cooperative in Edna, Texas, before starting in Camden in 2002. Through Harvey and its aftermath, he was hosting his son Zac, daughter-in-law Kristi and grandson Brooks. They live in Humble, Texas, a suburb about two miles west of Lake Houston, a scene of historic flooding.
“They’d already had the visit planned, but the trip got extended,” Mark Cayce said on Sept. 1, after seeing them off. “The Houston airport was closed, and we even planned to drive them back, but we found out that the roads were impassible.”
Cayce was relieved when his son got home to find his house unflooded, undamaged and with the power still on. “Getting people’s electricity back on after a natural disaster is a hard and time-consuming process,” Cayce said, calling up a computerized rendering of OECC’s transmission system on his office computer in Camden.
“We use sophisticated systems like this to track outages, and all our linemen can access all this through iPads that they carry,” Cayce said. But all that can be useless after a major storm. The utility’s own power may be out. Internet and cell signals are disrupted. Utility employees often can’t get to work, and downed trees and power poles, not to mention flooding, impede getting to repair sites.
“When a person calls in and says the lights aren’t on, they think you can just flip a switch or make a fix,” he said. “But you have to first have power to your substations, then trace the outages along the transmission line to where you can find the problem. Meanwhile, the lineman’s iPad isn’t working, or his cell service may be out.”
Even on Thursday afternoon, nearly two weeks after Harvey’s landfall, 4,400 electric customers in the Houston area were still without power, according to CenterPoint Energy, which serves some 900,000 meters in the region. The utility, working around the clock, had restored electricity to more than 99 percent of its customers.
Entergy Arkansas sent 90 crews to Texas to help turn the power back on, according to spokesman David Lewis. Most all were back home by last week.