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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

2 Million Texans Are Without Power. State Energy Group Can't Say When It Will Come Back.

People walk over snow and ice in Austin's Travis Heights neighborhood Monday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
People walk over snow and ice in Austin's Travis Heights neighborhood Monday.

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state's electricity grid, says it is unsure when it can restore power to the more than 2 million Texans who are currently without it.

Many power-generating units went offline overnight because of the severe cold and high demand for energy. As people turned up their thermostats, ERCOT initiated controlled outages – that is, purposely turning off power in certain areas for a short amount of time to try to save energy.

But the extreme weather and high demand caused these controlled outages to continue much longer than expected. Some people in Austin have been without power since the early hours of Monday.

“At this time, we anticipate that we'll need to continue these controlled outages at some level for the rest of today and at least the first part of tomorrow, perhaps all day tomorrow," Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's senior director of system operations, said on a call with reporters. "These outages will continue until there's sufficient generation able to be brought back online to meet the demand on the system.”

Woodfin said ERCOT isn't able to rotate who is part of a controlled outage, because at this point it needs to save so much energy. If it rotates the outages, demand might exceed supply too much and that it would damage the grid.

"Additionally and separately, this extreme winter weather event is causing local outages attributed to iced vegetation and freezing temperatures interfering with power lines and other electrical equipment," Austin Energy wrote in a press release.

In the meantime, customers who have power should try to conserve energy as much as possible. ERCOT offers these tips:

  • Turn down thermostats to 68-degrees.
  • Close shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
  • Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances.
  • Avoid using large appliances (i.e., ovens, washing machines, etc.).
  • Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.
  • Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes.

ERCOT plans to do another media briefing this afternoon.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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