AUSTIN, Texas — Following this month’s ice storm and ahead of what could be a change in City of Austin management, some frustrated Austin Energy customers are looking at alternative ways of getting power, with less dependability on the City’s utility company.
Brian Matheny of Lakeway and his husband say they’ve invested thousands of dollars into ways to avoid complete dependability on Austin Energy and its infrastructure after losing power during different times of the year for the past several years – and not just when there’s inclement weather.
"Whether it's light snow, it's light icing, or it's extreme heat, I would say we are consistently without power for, or we go through power outages, two to three times a year," Matheny said.
Matheny said during the most recent ice storm, he was without power for more than five days. He said his neighborhood of about 200 homes experienced the same.
"It was such an ominous site driving or walking back to the house, to see pure darkness and to see an entire city without power," Matheny said.
Five years ago, to be more environmentally friendly, Matheny and his husband installed solar panels on their home.
“It’s actually been a money-saver,” Matheny said, noting that the investment was worth it.
But then the couple said they started experiencing what seemed like rolling outages at different times of the year.
"What is it about our area of town, what is it about our area, specifically, that causes us to so frequently go down?" Matheny asked.
Matheny said they now have Tesla Powerwall batteries on the way to install in their home. Powerwall is a home battery designed to store energy from solar or the grid, so you can use it anytime you want – at night or during an outage. The batteries would keep power on for two to three days.
While it has been a significant investment, Matheny said it is worth it.
The couple said they understand the problem does not only lie in Austin Energy's infrastructure. They and their neighbors would like to see the City trim its trees regularly. Ice weighing down on trees, causing them to break and fall over into powerlines, has been to blame for many of the outages in Central Texas.
"When those things aren’t maintained, that is negligence, and that is what led to the power outages. And that is preventable," Matheny said.
Matheny said there also needs to be a review of not just City management, but Austin Energy's inner workings. He, like many in the Austin area, had trouble reporting his outages and getting any sort of update regarding his power during the most recent ice storm.
"From an operational standpoint – we saw so many failures with the phone lines, the website, the texting platform and the IVR," Matheny said. "Not getting information, not knowing and having to live in a state of just literally blackout – not just power, but information blackout – was really challenging."