Warm Hearts in Freezing Weather

For nearly four days in mid-February, Texas was literally frozen. It was the perfect storm. The first time in memory that all 254 Texas counties were under freeze warnings. Boats froze at their moorings in Galveston. Minus 3 degrees recorded in Denton—a tie with our record low. And perhaps worst of all, when we needed it most, an electrical grid that was unprepared to meet the winter onslaught and heavy demand.

We saw an amazing community spirit in Denton that frigid week and beyond. The City of Denton opened facilities for warming centers and showers, and coordinated massive bottled water distribution efforts. Hundreds of citizens opened their hearts to others. Many did so through their faith communities and familiar non-profits like Rotary, Lovepacs, First Refuge, Mission Moms, Friends with Benefits, and Operation Airdrop.

Even more folks helped through neighbor-to-neighbor efforts like the Denton Grassroots Water Crew, a spontaneous group of friends and local business owners who mobilized 300 volunteers. This group alone distributed more than 6,000 gallons of water and helped more than 1,000 families with food, diapers, toiletries, and other necessities. I couldn’t begin to count the number of neighbors who helped each other fix broken pipes or get a hot shower.

More than board games and snowmen, I hope my children remember this sense of community most.

However, we can’t ignore the electricity issues. In Denton, we citizens own our utilities, including Denton Municipal Electric (DME). DME generates power for our local use, we sell power into the statewide system, and when necessary we buy power off of the statewide grid. Other power companies across Texas failed to winterize equipment or prepare financially. But in Denton we were ready. Day-to-day, we meet most of our power needs with our wind and solar generation farms. When we buy power off of the statewide grid, we offset those purchases by selling power from the Denton Energy Center (DEC), our natural gas-fired plant, which keeps your power rates low.

So, from both a financial and facilities perspective, we were prepared to provide more than enough electricity for our people. Then came two unavoidable challenges. Firstly, the statewide order for rolling blackouts. But secondly, our natural gas supplier to the DEC turned off the tap. We still cannot say exactly why, but without gas the DEC couldn’t run. And without the DEC running we had no power to sell into the grid and offset the record high market electricity prices.

Because your City Council is also the DME board of directors, we don’t charge variable rates. So, your DME bills were not astronomical like those Texans on variable rate plans. But in the coming days DME and other utility providers, stuck with high power costs through no fault of our own, will need to hold the responsible parties accountable.

Feel free to contact me on these issues and any others before the Denton City Council at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you, and I’ll see you around town!