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Why Don't We Have Backup Power To Keep Us On Air During Outages?

KUT building
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
A look up to the top of the CMB building where KUT is housed. Our transmitter has a backup generator, but our studios do not.

During our mini-crisis this morning, when the power was cut to several dozen buildings at the University of Texas and KUT went off the air, some people on were wondering, "Why don't y'all have some backup power?"

Our 100,000 watt transmitter does have a backup generator, which is why you would have heard silence if you tuned in this morning between 7 and 8:30. If the transmitter lost power, you would have heard nothing but radio static.

The transmitter's backup generator was installed a few years ago to help KUT deal with Austin Energy outages in Westlake Hills, where the transmitter is located.

But here in the CMB Building on the UT Campus, it's a different story. We aren't on Austin Energy's grid; UT has its own power system, which was considered virtually infallible by its engineers, until a couple recent outages.

"We are on UT power and that makes this a very rare occurrence," KUT associate general manager Hawk Mendenhall said.  He said there have been discussions in the past about installing backup generator just for the KUT control room, but that it was "cost prohibitive" to do in this building.

However, when KUT moves into its new building across the street in 2012, we will have a natural gas generator, Mendenhall said. Having natural gas as the power source means the generator could run indefinitely in the event of a long term outage.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.