Texas City power outages: grid operator takes some blame, shelter in place lifted *update*

A combination of refinery electrical equipment problems and power grid issues appear to be behind outages that hit several Texas City oil refineries and chemical plants overnight and Tuesday morning.

Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for Texas New Mexico Power— the company that owns the power lines in the Texas City area — said there were four outage events starting at 9:30 p.m. Monday in which several 138-kilovolt lines went offline.

Garber said it appears the sections that failed were on the customer-owned distribution lines, not on the lines TNMP owns and operates.  That means it was most likely equipment owned and operated by the refineries that was at fault.

With redundant wiring, TNMP was able to quickly isolate the problem areas and avoid a cascading problem that would have knocked out power to others in the area.

Another set out outages at about 4:30 Tuesday morning were due to problems at a TNMP transformer, however.

“The cause of the fault appears to be a buildup of residue on equipment that normally would be washed away by rains,” Garber said in an e-mail. “April has been extremely dry, which led to this buildup. High humidity late last night and early this morning, coupled with the buildup of residue, appears to have triggered the fault.”

TNMP has begun spraying its Texas City-area equipment to remove possible salt accumulation this week as a precautionary measure, Garber said.

A shelter-in-place for Texas City residents was lifted at about noon Tuesday, meaning the risk of being exposed to uncontrolled emissions from the plants had diminished.

The plants involved in the power outages don’t seem to be on board with TNMP’s explanation of the cause of the outages, however.

“We are unaware of the cause of the widespread power outages in Texas City, but have no reason to believe they originated on our site,” said Beth Dombrowa, a spokeswoman for Dow Chemicals, which saw its plant go offline at about 10:15 p.m. Monday .

Valero spokeman Bill Day said he doesn’t believe the problem was with Valero’s equipment either. A spokesman for Marathon also indicated the company doesn’t believe its equipment was to blame for the numerous, short outages.