By Keely McDowell: CNJ staff writer
There is a “distinct possibility” eastern New Mexico and West Texas will have controlled power outages this summer if above-average temperatures continue, Xcel Energy spokesman Wes Reeves said.
Reeves said if Xcel is unable to meet demands this summer, the company could shut down power to randomly selected 50 megawatt areas for one hour. The areas would exclude hospitals, nursing homes and key municipal buildings. The most likely times for the outages would be between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., which are the company’s peak energy hours, Reeves said.
He said the company would inform affected customers through the media before an outage occurs.
Xcel, which serves 386,000 customers in eastern New Mexico and West Texas, reported a 19.4 percent increase in power usage in May from a year ago related to higher-than-normal temperatures, according to Reeves.
Farmers’ Electric Cooperative, which serves 6,400 customers in Curry, De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt and San Miguel counties, has also experienced an increase demand for power.
Thom Moore, a spokesman for Farmers’ Electric, attributes a rise in its customers’ energy demand to irrigation usage and the economy.
“There are a lot of homes being built that are all electric; farmers are converting from gas motors that pump water for wells to electric, and they are converting from diesel to electric because of the high cost of diesel,” Moore said. “Economics is the driving force as to why they are converting to electric. Economics and convenience, because right now electricity is the better deal.”
Farmers’ purchases its power from Xcel. It is uncertain if Farmers’ customers would be included in the controlled power outages, officials said.
Xcel and Farmers’ Electric Cooperative Inc. officials believe the customers can make a big difference by being more conscious with their energy usage.
“The same way they would think about their gas tank, we want customers to think that way about the energy supply coming into their home,” Reeves said. “It’s more costly than it used to be and it’s a little more scarce than it used to be. Very much like your gas tank.”
Xcel has not had to resort to controlled outage in this area before, although outages are common for companies in Texas and California, according to Reeves. Ten years ago, Xcel came close to implementing power outages in eastern New Mexico and West Texas, according to Reeves, and the company credits customers for preventing the need for an outage.
“We did this in 1998, which was another record breaking year. We had a very close call that day to having controlled outages,” Reeves said. “After we talked to customers, we actually saw a decrease of about 5 percent (in usage), which is very significant. We credit the customers for helping us get through the day.”
The cost and difficulty of building new power plants is the reason for the power shortage, according to Reeves. He said new power plants and power lines are financed by the company’s base rate, which he said has not increased in New Mexico in 21 years.
“It’s good in that we have not been charging high cost through the years, but it is bad because we haven’t kept up either,” Reeves said.
Reeves said a generating station under construction in Hobbs, scheduled to be operational this month, would have eliminated the possibility of controlled outages by adding 500 megawatts per hour of energy into the grid.
However, its opening has been pushed back to July or August.