Wilson County stays warm as Texas freezes



Audio articles on Wilson County News made possible by C Street Gift Shop in downtown Floresville

Dwarfed by the Lyssy & Eckel Feed Mill in Poth, Bobby Ray Herrera of Floresville Electric Light & Power System (right) checks in with FELPS headquarters Feb. 19, to advise Mill Manager Barrett Orth (left) and Head Electrician Rosendo Garza of the impact on the utility’s power supply as the huge mill is brought back to life after being shut down for a week to conserve power for FELPS customers. The bold move was a key part of the utility’s ability to provide power to its member cities — Floresville, Poth, Stockdale, Falls City, and La Vernia — during last week’s big freeze. N. KILBEY-SMITH/Wilson County News Dwarfed by the Lyssy & Eckel Feed Mill in Poth, Bobby Ray Herrera of Floresville Electric Light & Power System (right) checks in with FELPS headquarters Feb. 19, to advise Mill Manager Barrett Orth (left) and Head Electrician Rosendo Garza of the impact on the utility’s power supply as the huge mill is brought back to life after being shut down for a week to conserve power for FELPS customers. The bold move was a key part of the utility’s ability to provide power to its member cities — Floresville, Poth, Stockdale, Falls City, and La Vernia — during last week’s big freeze. N. KILBEY-SMITH/Wilson County News

Light and heat.

These were in short supply last week, as Texans endured six days of snow, ice, and bitter cold. The consecutive days of freezing and sub-freezing temperatures strained the electrical grid. Power went out across the state.

But in Wilson County, families and businesses managed to keep warm — thanks to the creative thinking and community-mindedness of the leadership of the Floresville Electric Light & Power System (FELPS) and its largest power consumer, Lyssy & Eckel Feeds in Poth.

FELPS Chief Executive Officer Winston “Greg” Low and his team considered their options as temperatures plunged and rolling power outages began all around.

What was the best way to meet demand, keep the lights and heat on for residents, and help everyone make it through?

“We talked about the best solution,” Low said. If they could power down the largest power consumers, there might be enough power — which FELPS purchases from CPS Energy in San Antonio — to provide for homes, small businesses, farms, and ranches.

The largest consumer is Lyssy & Eckel Feeds in Poth.

“Ronnie Eckel agreed to keep his mills off,” Low explained. “We have a lot of thanks for that. If they’d been in operation, it would’ve taken away our ability to meet the community need.”

“Hats off to him,” Low added. “He helped out everyone in our community.”

In addition, community members responded to FELPS’ requests online and via social media to conserve energy, Low said. It took everyone to make the plan work.

The school districts served by FELPS also played a role in keeping the power on for others, Low explained, by remaining closed and not straining the system by trying to light and heat campuses.

FELPS crews — including Drew Pope, Bobby Ray Herrera, and Robert Sanchez — worked all week, watching for the least blip and driving the lines. As snow settled in Feb. 14, a crew went into action as the Eagle Creek substation maxed out. The FELPS crew moved the electrical load to Floresville and built a new line — in the middle of the night — “just to keep people’s power on,” Low said. “We did some things that were way different.”

Pellet Mill Operator Roberto Briones (left) powers up equipment Feb. 19 at Lyssy & Eckel Feeds in Poth, as (back, l-r) Head Electrician Rosendo Garza, Bobby Ray Herrera with Floresville Electric Light & Power System, and Mill Manager Barrett Orth monitor the mill’s impact on the FELPS power supply. The mill — the largest power user on the FELPS system — ceased production the week of Feb. 15-19, in order for FELPS to keep the power on for community members. N. KILBEY-SMITH/Wilson County News Pellet Mill Operator Roberto Briones (left) powers up equipment Feb. 19 at Lyssy & Eckel Feeds in Poth, as (back, l-r) Head Electrician Rosendo Garza, Bobby Ray Herrera with Floresville Electric Light & Power System, and Mill Manager Barrett Orth monitor the mill’s impact on the FELPS power supply. The mill — the largest power user on the FELPS system — ceased production the week of Feb. 15-19, in order for FELPS to keep the power on for community members. N. KILBEY-SMITH/Wilson County News

Other than that and three outages Feb. 17 affecting Floresville, Sutherland Springs and La Vernia, and Kosciusko that were remedied within three hours, FELPS managed to keep the power on throughout the severe weather.

Low said other things that helped were about several million dollars in system improvements to the FELPS system in the past couple of years and trimmed trees.

“People didn’t like when we did the tree-trimming,” Low said. “But it helped keep the power on through this!”

But the key to the whole plan was Lyssy & Eckel.

“Ronnie told me that by keeping his feed mill shut, he was helping the people who depend on him and do business with him — the farmers and ranchers and community members,” Low said.

“As a community, we learn how to deal with crisis; we work together to come through,” Eckel explained his decision, deflecting any recognition for his company’s part in the FELPS plan.

“It really took the whole community,” he said, redirecting any praise to where the plan started.

“I have nothing but great things to say about FELPS — the entire team,” Eckel said. “Those people were out here juggling things, building things. I can’t say enough what a great job they did. They are the real heroes.”

FELPS was at Lyssy & Eckel Feb. 19, to see the mills switched back on smoothly, and ensure the integrity of the system.

Bobby Ray Herrera was in constant contact with his team at FELPS as the mill equipment went back into action, one giant mechanism at a time.

“It’s the startup that gets you,” he said, as the last item hummed to life. “We did a slow startup, not to strain the system, monitoring the switch that controls the feeder and the substation. That way, it wouldn’t peak and take everything out.”

The mill crew had been working all week to maintain the equipment, ready to power it back up when they got the green light.

“It’s the first time that mill has been down for more than a day — ever,” Eckel said.

With everything looking good and sounding like it should, Mill Manager Barrett Orth and crew were ready to get into action to tackle the backlog in production.

Eckel downplayed the impact on his business, emphasizing the part everyone played — from residents to businesses and schools to FELPS.

“These are good communities,” Eckel said. “FELPS is taking care of the people who own it.”

All- time high

The Floresville Electric Light & Power System hit its all-time peak demand during The Big Freeze last week.

“We hit 105 megawatt hours,” said FELPS CEO Greg Low. “Before, our maximum was 88.”

We appreciate you!

“As a mother of an 8-month-old, I cannot thank the leader-ship enough for being ahead of this thing the whole time and for investing money in the right places before this happened,” said Robyn Wiatrek Muennink of Poth. “I didn’t have to worry about how to keep my baby warm, because we had electricity this whole week. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for that.”

Jodie Adams Sultenfuss, who lives north of Floresville, echoed the appreciation of many community members.

“Thank you FELPS,” she said. “Thank you to everyone in our community that heeded the call to conserve energy when the need arose. I am grateful to have kept our power on. I have many family members all across the state who were not as fortunate.”

“Words cannot express how much we appreciate all of those that worked to make sure we did not lose power, which would have resulted in loss of water as well … so thank you and God bless,” said Cathy L. Stolle.

nkilbey-smith@wcn-online.com