LAS CRUCES – Extreme heat not only has the potential to impact community members and animals, but El Paso Electric infrastructure as well.
While heat-related issues are not uncommon for southern New Mexico and west Texas, severe temperatures can cause infrastructure problems.
Javier Camacho, public relations specialist with EPE, explained that three or more days of triple-digit temperatures are considered an extreme weather event — capable of impacting their system. Vulnerabilities in the infrastructure may be exposed and lead to outages.
“Similar to how northern states are no stranger to snow days but a blizzard is on another level,” Camacho wrote in an email.
Hotter days, as well as increasing customer numbers, conversion to refrigerated air and use of items that require more energy, have also impacted peak energy demand since 2017.
Camacho reports that peak energy demand increased more than 12 percent from 2017 to 2020, from 1,935 megawatts to 2,172 megawatts. Last year’s number was the company’s projection for usage in 2023.
Recent triple-digit days have proven to be hazardous. According to the utility company, it maintains 100,000 transformers in the service area. Just this month, 200 transformers failed during a six-day triple-digit event causing outages while people tried to keep cool.
Maintenance blitzes conducted by the company in the past eight years have identified faulty or damaged equipment before extreme weather events occurred — a preventative measure. Camacho said more crews are dispatched during “extreme” times who work to prevent outages and react quickly if they occur.
He said issues specifically with cables and transformers that deliver electricity to structures may be highlighted during these events. Prolonged exposure to heat, on top of an increase in energy demand due to the temperatures, without adequate time to cool, increases the chance for an issue to arise or for the system to shut down in order to protect itself.
The built-in protection stops further damage to infrastructure and limits impact to other customers, but still results in an outage for some.
“Any outage outside of external factors like Mylar balloons and other debris, wildlife or motor vehicle accidents can be prevented but not always predicted,” Camacho wrote.
In some instances, problems with infrastructure can be unrelated to the heat — previous storms or lightning strikes may be the cause — however the heat can expose the problem, resulting in an outage. Incidents are investigated, and if equipment failure is found, it and the nearby equipment are inspected or replaced.
If customers experience an outage during the day, EPE suggests keeping blinds and curtains closed to block heat, keep doors and windows closed to keep cool air inside and keep refrigerators and freezers closed to keep food fresh. At night, customers experiencing an outage should use battery-powered lights rather than potentially hazardous candles, keep a cellphone battery pack nearby and turn off appliances that were in use to avoid a power surge later.
Customers are encouraged to call EPE and report outages immediately. The company can be reached by phone at 1-800-592-1634, by email at CustomerCare@epelectric.com, online at epelectric.com or through the MyEPE Outage App.