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Local utilities say they are prepared for unusual weather

Utilities share lessons learned from 2011
Posted at 6:26 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 20:26:38-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A blast of arctic air testing the grid and leaving many people in Texas and other parts of the country without power, water or gas. It has some people wondering if something similar could happen here in southern Arizona.

Meteorologists say it would be very unlikely for the Tucson area to hit the same kind of sustained, week-long freeze that other parts of the country have had recently. But on a much smaller scale, southern Arizona had similar grid issues in the early part of February of 2011.

Tucson struggled to get out of the teens for a couple morning and some areas nearly hit zero.

“Outlying facilities started to freeze up, and then it became just a system wide issue,” said Tucson Water Spokesperson Fernando Molina.

Molina says steps have been taken to insulate their equipment since then.

“This was things like exposed pipes, meters or valves and other things sticking out and exposed to the air,” he said. “We developed a program to prioritize protection of all that.” Tucson Electric Power also took similar actions.

“There certainly were lessons learned for electric utilities during that cold snap,” said Spokesperson Joseph Barrios.

Barrios says extreme cold can make natural gas less efficient in generating power, but TEP as other options like solar and wind to make up some of the difference. They also can draw on power from other parts of the western grid in an emergency.

“You can always go to a neighbor for help. So, we are in different circumstances that will allow us to respond to extreme weather conditions,” Barrios said.

Molina says in the case of a record-breaking cold event, colder than what happened in 2011, they may need to make additional preparations. And customers would want to take extra precautions like having a week or two supply of water, food, and other supplies.

“We probably would put messaging out like here’s what we are doing to take care of our stuff, here’s what you can do to care of yours.”

Southwest Gas says since the cold snap in 2011, they have added a liquefied natural gas storage facility in southeast Tucson to serve as a backup system.