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KPUB'S Wittler faced plenty of storms over the last year; still ready to serve Kerrville

KPUB CEO can laugh a bit about the winter storm in February, but he also acknowledges the epic struggle the utility faced.

The way Kerrville Public Utility Board CEO Mike Wittler sees it, the only time he's going into the field is if there's a major storm brewing. In that case, Wittler has been in the field a lot because the storms have been ragers.

Just a recap:

  • In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit the entire nation, causing widespread disruptions and uncertainty. KPUB had to adjust its business to accommodate the uncertain times.
  • In May 2020, a powerful thunderstorm pushed its way into the Hill Country with heavy winds, including some topping out at 40 MPH. The storm knocked out power, knocked down poles and forced KPUB to call mutual aid for the first time in its history.
  • Finally, in February, the winter storm.

"Absolutely no fun," Wittler says now.

For all of us who lived it, we can look back at it and laugh a bit, but like Wittler, there would be widespread agreement among many that those days around Valentine's Day were wretched.

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"I guess every event is different, but I'd say, in February, it was one curveball after another," Wittler said. "We had more operational issues than we would normally have in a whole year. We lost communication to substations,we lost controls, we had breakers malfunction and we had transmission lines out of service."

So, as Public Power Week wraps up this weekend, and you happen to be in Louise Hays Park, you may want to consider saying hello because those utility workers have been through a lot.

KPUB will play host to a public event on Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Louise Hays Park in Kerrville, where people can meet KPUB workers and get a lift in a KPUB truck.

"I would say that we've had really great community support this year," said Allison Bueche, who handles customer service and community relations for KPUB. "I think our linemen felt really appreciated during this period. They are the unsung heroes. They are amazing."

When the winter storm hit, Wittler said there were ice loads in the Central Texas Electric Co-Op's coverage area, which includes parts of western Kerr County, that were hit with nearly 1-inch of ice. That loaded down trees and power lines, causing thousands of power poles to snap. An estimated 2,000 power poles went down in CTEC's coverage area alone.

"There were tree limbs down everywhere," Wittler said. "Where we are the minimum design standard is a 1/4 to 1/2-inch ice load, and when you look at where the standard is designing for in the 1-inch that's up in the northern states of the U.S.," Wittler said.

The winter storm has cast a shadow upon Texas, with significant questions raised about the electric grid's reliability. There is still litigation over the run-up of costs associated with the storm. The event has been a political football in Austin, where the legislature addresses some of the needs, but weatherization is still an issue.

"There is still a lot going on," Wittler said. "A lot of the issues are state planning issues. ERCOT and the (Public Utilities Commission) are doing a lot of rulemakings. We are following that very closely.

"It's going to take years to address all of the problems that we have."

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