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Drought Conditions in Texas Strain Power Transmission Lines

A blackout in Texas City, Texas, may be the latest in a series of power failures caused by lack of rain, which helps clear electrical lines of deposits, according to Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission.

“It’s something we’re looking at” Hadley said today. “There are certainly a larger number of outages than normal and most appear to be drought-related. Today’s event underscores that it’s a concern.”

BP Plc, Valero Energy Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp., which represent almost 5 percent of U.S. refining capacity, lost power for a time at their Texas City refineries early today. Outages and resulting production disruptions last month sent gasoline futures to a 33-month high.

The deposits, which trap heat, may include dust, chemicals emitted by refineries and other plants and corrosion caused by salt air, Hadley said. The exact cause of the most recent blackout is still under investigation, he said.

“There appears to be no one large cause other than that the drought has caused these compounds to accumulate more,” Hadley said in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas.

PNM Resources Inc. and CenterPoint Energy Inc., the Houston-area’s largest electric distributor, have been spraying lines with water.

Washing the Lines

“We continue to wash both transmission and distribution lines because in the Houston area we continue to be in drought conditions and the buildup of salt, dirt and environmental contamination continues,” said Leticia Lowe, a spokeswoman at CenterPoint’s Houston headquarters. “We haven’t experienced any serious outages recently.”

Drought conditions, which began last year, are expected to persist or intensify through the end of August along Texas’s Gulf Coast, according to the National Weather Service.

The power company found a broken insulator on the transmission line and is trying to determine what broke it, said Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for Lewisville, Texas-based Texas-New Mexico Power Co., owned by PNM.

The power outages in April were caused by residue buildup on the equipment because of the drought, Garber in a telephone interview from Albuquerque, where PNM is based.

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