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City leaders urge conservation for businesses and residents alike amid ongoing, statewide outages

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

In response to the myriad issues that have dogged Austin following unprecedented snow and cold, Travis County Judge Andy Brown has issued an order that prohibits price-gouging and asks businesses to curtail their use of electricity. “All manufacturing, industrial and commercial businesses that use electricity in their operations/processes are ordered to minimize non-essential processes and operations to the greatest extent possible. All athletic facilities, stadiums and other businesses shall not use exterior lighting unless it is necessary to provide essential services,” reads the order, in part. In a press conference held Tuesday afternoon, Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent confirmed that the utility had asked the city’s largest customers its industrial users to shut down. “That’s not necessarily something that’s easy to do. So we really appreciate them for assisting in this in these extreme circumstances,” she noted.

Sargent also said that AE, the Downtown Austin Alliance and the city’s Chamber of Commerce had all asked downtown businesses to reduce power as much as possible. A statement from the utility explained, “The downtown network is excluded for now from load shedding (power outages) during controlled outages mandated by ERCOT. This is a complicated, inter-connected network which includes critical buildings like the Dell Seton Medical Center, warming centers, the COVID-19 Alternate Care Site, Capitol Complex and Austin City Hall, as well as other critical infrastructure and government buildings. Shutting down the downtown network would also cut off electricity to these critical buildings, which may also house vital communications equipment.”

A lit-up downtown skyline became a flashpoint for frustration this week, as many continued to live without power during record-setting cold weather. That state is expected to continue for an indeterminate amount of time, until the state’s power grid is able to meet demand. Until then, Mayor Steve Adler stressed the need to reduce electricity use as much as possible, in a collective effort to reduce electricity demand statewide. “We are putting out an urgent plea to businesses to reduce their power consumption, just as we are asking people in residences,” said Adler. “If you have power, please try to live almost like you don’t. If you have heat, run it low, run it lower. If you have lights, try to just use the light you need at that moment. If you have power, maybe you’ll take a turn using flashlights, or a candle.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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