Beryl Was Not a Surprise, but It Battered Southeast Texas Electric Grid Anyway

Utilities from the Gulf of Mexico to New England bracing for a stormy summer.
Beryl Was Not a Surprise, but It Battered Southeast Texas Electric Grid Anyway
A utility worker restores a damaged powerline after Hurricane Beryl swept through Surfside, Texas, on July 8, 2024. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
John Haughey
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Hurricane Beryl was on radars for more than 11 days, and its likely southeast Texas landfall was projected for at least five days before it crashed ashore on July 8 in Matagorda Bay near Indianola, a ghost town abandoned nearly 140 years ago after being destroyed twice by hurricanes.

The storm was not a surprise.

Yet in Category 1 Beryl’s wake, at least eight people in Texas and Louisiana are dead, and more than 2.3 million homes and businesses in the Houston area were without power early on July 9, according to PowerOutage.us.

“While we tracked the projected path, intensity, and timing for Hurricane Beryl closely for many days, this storm proved the unpredictability of hurricanes as it delivered a powerful blow across our service territory and impacted a lot of lives,” Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of CenterPoint Energy, the region’s largest electrical utility with more than 4 million area metered and natural gas customers, said in a July 9 statement.
An “electric army” of 12,000 linemen and technicians from across Texas and neighboring states are scrambling to repair downed transmission lines and flooded substations, CenterPoint Energy reported early on July 9.

“Based on current progress with its damage assessment and initial restoration, CenterPoint now expects to have 1 million impacted customers restored by the end of the day on Wednesday, July 10,” it said.

That leaves at least 1 million people in the Houston area alone without power for an extended period under a National Weather Service heat advisory at least through July 10.

CenterPoint said it would supply mobile generation units to provide temporary power to cooling centers, health care facilities, senior centers, police, and fire stations until electricity in storm-affected areas is restored.

Intensifying Projections and Planning

Hurricanes are a familiar menace on the Gulf coast, although rarely has a storm of such fury, storm surge, and flooding arrived in July during the June 1 to Nov. 1 “Mean Season.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 2024 hurricane season has an 85 percent chance of being “above normal,” with 17 to 25 named storms and eight to 13 hurricanes, including four to seven “major” hurricanes. That’s a 30 percent increase in storm activity from 2023’s NOAA forecast.

Hurricane Beryl, although a Category 1 with 80 mph winds when it made landfall in the United States, is the first 2024 storm to meet NOAA’s “major” storm classification of Category 3 and above, reaching Category 5 with 165 mph sustained winds faster and earlier than any Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.
According to a recently published study by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, the Houston area is 72 percent more likely to see more extended hurricane-induced power outages in the coming years than it is right now.
The study used outage data from 23 hurricanes that made landfall in the United States between 2014 and 2022 to determine with computer modeling where electric utilities are most vulnerable to sustained outages not only in the Southeast but also in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

The Houston area was among those determined to be most susceptible to prolonged storm-induced power outages like the one it will endure in Beryl’s wake.

“The average person in the metropolitan areas of Boston, Houston, and New Orleans could see expected outage events increase more than 70 percent per decade,” the analysis states.

It also projected that Washington would see its odds of sustained power outages from hurricanes in the coming decades increase by 21 percent, Philadelphia by 49 percent, New York City by 47 percent, and Boston by 76 percent.

Florida is particularly vulnerable, according to the study, with Tampa at 89 percent higher risk and Miami at 119 percent higher risk.

That vulnerability comes as no surprise, although planning for the “unpredictability” of hurricanes is getting more difficult, representatives from the state’s four private utility companies said during a May 22 presentation before the Florida Public Service Commission.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) President and CEO Armando Pimentel told the commission that greater “unpredictability” during hurricane season has fostered a “conservative” worst-case scenario in planning when investing in infrastructure hardening and in response training.

The storms are getting bigger and coming more frequently, he said.

“For whatever reason ... there’s clearly an intensification going on,” he said. “And so now we have to prepare for storms a little sooner than what we had, and it’s going to be a little bit more costly than what we had.”

An abandoned, storm-smashed sailboat dumped outside a ship salvage yard on San Carlos Island near Fort Myers Beach, Fla., in February 2023, five months after Hurricane Ian devastated southwest Florida. (John Haughey/The Epoch Times)
An abandoned, storm-smashed sailboat dumped outside a ship salvage yard on San Carlos Island near Fort Myers Beach, Fla., in February 2023, five months after Hurricane Ian devastated southwest Florida. (John Haughey/The Epoch Times)

Tampa Electric Co. President and CEO Archie Collins spoke of the challenges of preparing for hurricanes.

“It is becoming an increasingly difficult game to figure out how to find that balance between being well-prepared and not overspending on planning for an impending hurricane,” Mr. Collins said.

Among the issues in responding to hurricane-induced outrages is that utilities in nearby states are hesitant to send mutual aid crews to Florida because another storm could strike while they are tending to a disaster elsewhere.

Duke Energy Florida President Melissa Seixas that assembling an emergency response mutual aid response effort is like “staging an army,” with the host utility needing to find housing, food, and services for the arriving linemen and technicians.

Duke, which operates electric utilities in South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, can draw on its own workforce to supplement those in Florida in an emergency—and vice-versa.

Bracing For Storms to Come

Duke, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is among mutual aid utilities sending workers to Texas in Beryl’s wake.

“Approximately 130 Duke Energy Florida lineworkers and personnel and about 100 contractors from the Carolinas deployed to Texas to help restore power with our mutual assistance partners this morning,” Duke Corporate Communications Manager Caroline Fountain told The Epoch Times in a July 9 email.

It’s “a good question” how long they’ll stay, she said.

A utility worker restores a damaged powerline after Hurricane Beryl swept through Surfside, Texas, on July 8, 2024. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
A utility worker restores a damaged powerline after Hurricane Beryl swept through Surfside, Texas, on July 8, 2024. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
In a June 3 statement, Duke Energy said its “comprehensive and flexible storm response plan, built upon decades of experience and improvement,” includes an “electric army of more than 17,000 employees and contractors ready to respond to outages.”

In 2023, Duke stated, “self-healing technology helped to avoid more than 1.5 million customer outages, saving more than 3.6 million hours of total lost outage time across the company’s six-state service area.”

The company said in June that it recently completed a multi-year modernization of seven new grid control centers.

FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy with 12 million customers in Florida, did not respond to phone calls from The Epoch Times on July 9, but it touts years of investments in “a stronger, smarter, and more storm-resilient energy grid that benefits customers by improving the speed of restoration and reducing outage times following severe weather.”

It has invested in “a smart grid,” buried power lines, and replaced older transmission structures with steel or concrete as part of a multi-year infrastructure strategy to strengthen the electric grid.

In May, FPL mobilized more than 3,500 employees in a drill simulating a Category 4 hurricane hitting Miami, deploying a mobile command center “equipped to enter the hardest-hit areas and maintain communication with field workers” and showcasing a statewide “smart grid technology” that can be controlled remotely to reroute power to essential areas following a storm.

“We prepare year-round; we invested in a stronger, smarter, and more resilient energy grid. We are prepared for this upcoming hurricane season,” FPL spokesman Jack Eble told reporters at the drill, reminding residents that they, too, need to prepare and follow guides such as the one updated annually by FPL.
John Haughey is an award-winning Epoch Times reporter who covers U.S. elections, U.S. Congress, energy, defense, and infrastructure. Mr. Haughey has more than 45 years of media experience. You can reach John via email at [email protected]
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