This is a developing story and will be updated.
Texas power grid operators cannot predict when outages might end, Texas Electric Reliability Council officials said Tuesday.
More than 4 million Texans, many of them in North Texas, are suffering prolonged absenteeism as icy conditions have set in across the region.
ERCOT, the agency that oversees the state’s power grid, is trying to prevent catastrophic failure by instructing utility companies, including Oncor Electric Delivery, to cut off electricity for customers.
“We had to step in and make sure we didn’t get into a power outage with Texas that could keep people without power – not just some people without power, but everyone in our region without power – going for much, much longer than we believe this event will take as long and as difficult as it is now, ”said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT.
When reporters pushed for a schedule, he and Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations, couldn’t say how long the outages would last. An uncontrolled blackout could leave Texans without power for “an indefinite period of time,” maybe a month, Magness said.
Officials also described the challenge of restoring power during peak hours, including mornings and evenings.
Later in the day, ERCOT and Governor Greg Abbott announced that power would be restored to hundreds of thousands of customers, but profits are not always being sustained.
“At the same time, we were feeding certain generators into the grid and losing other generators,” said Woodfin. “So we weren’t able to add as much as we’d like during the day and what we’ve added we hope to stay online. However, if an additional generation does not become available later in the day, we may need to take some of it back offline in order to maintain the balance between electricity and supply. “
Controlled outages were supposed to be filmed in all areas for 15 to 45 minutes, but they were drastically lengthened for thousands of people even when others didn’t have outages.
Oncor officials didn’t answer questions about how to choose which parts of the city to turn off the power and which not, except to say they are trying to avoid critical infrastructure like hospitals.
Oncor officials said they tried to swap power between neighborhoods but were unsuccessful because of the network’s debilitating stability, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a call Monday with Oncor spokeswoman Kerri Dunn.
“We recognize the difficulty and extreme frustration faced by customers with no power during these historically low temperatures and we are ready to deliver power as soon as electrical generators can deliver it,” Oncor said on Twitter Tuesday. “As soon as enough generations become available, we will return to a regular cadence of alternating failures to provide temporary relief to those who have been without power the longest.”
A representative from Oncor only referred to a press release that did not answer questions about selecting neighborhoods for outages.
Governor Greg Abbott urged lawmakers now in session to investigate ERCOT and its handling of the storm.
“The Texas Electric Reliability Council has been far from reliable for the past 48 hours,” he said.
“ERCOT’s review of preparations and decisions is an emergency so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions,” said Abbott. “I thank my partners in the House and Senate for responding quickly to this challenge, and I will work with them to improve the Texas power grid and ensure our state never experiences such blackouts again.”
ERCOT officials did not give state lawmakers a specific estimate for the end of failures.
“After ERCOT was urged by the legislature, it would only take” days “for the power supply to be restored for all customers,” wrote the MP Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas) on Twitter. “In an email to members, ERCOT said, ‘Even if there is good progress, it will take additional time to return to normal.’ ”
Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) wrote on Twitter that ERCOT had told lawmakers that it knew last week that controlled outages were required, but did not make it public until Sunday.
“They apologize for not letting the public know this was going to happen,” said Wu.
The only rule for blackouts concerns first aiders and critical infrastructure.
(Downtown and hospital districts are critical I would guess)
They apologize for not letting the public know this was going to happen. They knew this would come last week. (?)
– Gene Wu (@GeneforTexas) February 16, 2021
During a conversation with reporters Tuesday, Magness and Woodfin didn’t say they knew outages would be required last week, but they said they saw the storm coming and were prepared for weather as severe as Texas in 2011 and 2018. But she realized Sunday that conditions that week would be much worse than other storms.
“What we saw this week is a historic, unprecedented weather event,” said Magness. “… There will and should be a major review of this event.”
A major winter storm in 2011 also put power generators out of service and resulted in blackouts in the state. Legislators held hearings and asked for changes to avoid similar problems.
Glenn Hegar, a Republican senator at the time, drafted a bill requiring the state to track and report how well the state’s electrical grid is prepared for extreme weather.
“When I passed this law, I was supposed to identify the mistakes made in 2011 and make sure our power grid, including our generating capacity, is prepared for winter emergencies,” said Hegar, who is now the State Comptroller, in a written statement. “Although the problems plaguing our power grid in this catastrophic winter storm are complex, I am extremely frustrated that our power grid remains so ill-equipped for these weather events 10 years later.”
He said the first priority is restoring power to all Texans. Afterward, he said, “We need to address why we are in a worse position today than we were in 2011 after 10 years. Why will certain areas be without power for two days or more while other areas have been successfully navigated by rolling blackouts or never blackouts ? The most pressing question is what Texas can do in the 21st century to ensure our network does not experience these problems again. “
The state must also review plans that power generators put in place to withstand extreme heat or cold. However, these plans are voluntary and not required. ERCOT reviews about 100 of these plans each year, Woodfin said Tuesday. Usually the reviews are personal, but they weren’t for the last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.