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‘Self-Sufficient’ And Upgraded: How El Paso’s Electric Grid Weathered The Storm

snowy mountain in el paso
Angela Kocherga/KTEP
Snowy mountains in El Paso. The city experienced a winter storm several years ago that prompted it to upgrade its utilities.

From Texas Standard:

The winter storm has affected nearly every corner of Texas. But El Paso has fared much better than most Texas cities because its power doesn’t come from Texas’ grid.

KTEP News Director Angela Kocherga told Texas Standard that her city faced the same snow and below-freezing temperatures as the rest of the state, but power outages were minimal.

“There was a brief power outage for about 3,000 people. A thousand of those people, it was just four, five minutes long. And the rest also had their power restored very, very quickly,” Kocherga said.

El Paso’s power comes from the Western Interconnection – a power grid that stretches all the way up into western Canada. It doesn’t use the Texas grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, so it wasn’t affected when ERCOT initiated blackouts across the state.

EI Paso has also made improvements to its utilities in recent years after a winter storm about a decade ago knocked out power. Now, its power stations can withstand temperatures down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. The city also tapped into a variety of different power sources, and has even looked into large solar batteries.

“El Paso Electric, it looked at everything from solar – we have 360 days of sunshine on average here – nuclear and natural gas, and of course, new technologies to maximize each,” Kocherga said.

Kocherga says these investments have made El Paso more “self-sufficient” with its power.

And El Paso’s approach isn’t just different from much of Texas, but also from its sister city across the border in Mexico, Ciudad Juarez. The same storm hit Juarez, but because the city relies on natural gas from Texas for its power – which Texas stopped delivering because of the storm – that city has faced its own blackouts.

“They are now rationing natural gas because they don’t have alternative sources like El Paso does,” Kocherga said.

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Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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