Texas power shortage leads to rolling blackouts in winter storm

Officials from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said the state's energy supply fell short by about 45,000 megawatts leading to rolling blackouts that have left more than 3 million people without power. Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI

Feb. 17 (UPI) — Officials from a utility that manages power for most customers in Texas said Tuesday that a lack of energy supply left millions of Texans without power amid freezing temperatures.

In a news conference addressing the outages, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT, which manages about 90% of the state’s power for 26 million customers, said the state’s energy supply fell short by about 45,000 megawatts and that it is instituting rolling outages across the system as it works to restore power.

More than 3 million people were without power in Texas as of Tuesday evening, according to poweroutage.us, as a major winter storm spanning from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic ravaged the state.

“We’re seeing demand in the winter nearly like we see at the top of the summer, when we’re all using our air conditioners,” ERCOT CEO Bill Magness told WFAA in an interview on Tuesday. “We have seen nothing like this honestly in Texas that has covered the state like the storm has. It increased demand to an extreme, extraordinary height, and then the storm also made it difficult for the supply to be provided.”

ERCOT told customers on Sunday to conserve power by turning down thermostats, shutting off and unplugging appliances and lights and avoiding using large appliances.

Austin Energy, another state utility, ordered industrial users such as Samsung, NXP Semiconductors and Infineon Semiconductors to fully shut down operations on Tuesday after having previously asked them to conserve energy and then “curtailed” users with backup generators.

“We reached out to our largest customers, and in partnership with them, they shut down their facilities,” Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent said during a news conference. “That’s not necessarily something that’s easy to do. So we really appreciate them for assisting in this in these extreme circumstances.”

Magness said that ERCOT is unable to receive power from the United States’ eastern power grid as it is experiencing its own outages from the storm and Mexico is only able to provide 450 megawatts of electricity.

On Monday, ERCOT was able to restore 2,500 megawatts, which was only enough to serve 500,000 households.

“Yesterday, we were able to restore service for probably hundreds of thousands of customers. Some of those we had to bring back into outage when the conditions worsened in the evening,” said Magness. “But our goal is to maintain the safety of the grid, to add to the number of customers who are getting their power back on and we hope we can continue that.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said reform of ERCOT would be placed as an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session and called on the utility’s leadership to resign in an interview with KTRK.

“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” said Abbott. “ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas … and they showed that they were not reliable. These are specialists and government has to rely upon these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations.”

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced that he had requested the House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees to convene a hearing on the outages on Feb. 25.

“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues and what steps regulators and grid operators are taking to safeguard our electric grid,” said Phelan.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, head of the state Senate, said the State and Business and Commerce Committee, would hold hearings as well.

“Millions of people are without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “We must get to the bottom of this to be sure we are better prepared even if an unprecedented weather event happens again.”


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