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Energy & Environment
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.

'We’re Stuck': Austin Energy Waiting For State’s Direction To Get Power Restored For 189K Customers

A snow-covered street in Austin's Hyde Park neighborhood.
Marisa Charpentier
/
KUT
A snow-covered street in Austin's Hyde Park neighborhood.

Nearly 190,000 Austin Energy customers may remain without power through Tuesday as temperatures remain below freezing. General Manager Jackie Sargent called the situation “unprecedented" in a Monday morning news conference.

Austin Energy says it takes its direction from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which advised rotating outages earlier Monday morning. But Austin Energy can no longer do the rotating outages because it’s already cut off power – or "shed load" – on all available circuits that don’t include some kind of critical need, like hospitals.

“We’re stuck here until we can get some reprieve from ERCOT,” says Sargent.

Sargent says the severe weather happened so quickly, and the load amount they needed to remove was so significant, they maxed out. “Because we’re at that maxed limit,” she says, “there’s no more energy that we can shut off at this time so that we can bring these customers [without power] back on.”

This is a statewide event, with ERCOT reporting more than 2 million people without power. The Texas grid operator says the situation is likely to continue through the night and possibly into Tuesday afternoon.

Austin Energy is asking all customers with power to conserve as much as possible. This involves turning off or lowering thermostats to below 68, unplugging devices and appliances, leaving lights off and closing blinds.

“Every little bit that you can do will help us,” Sargent says. “We are doing everything we can to work through this ongoing and fluid situation."

For those without power, city leaders advise people to stay home and try to stay warm since getting on the roads right now is dangerous. But due to the freezing temperatures, they have opened a cold-weather shelter at the Palmer Events Center, as well as other shelters across the city. There are currently 282 people sheltered across the city.

“If you need to get to a warming center make the decision now,” says Juan Ortiz, the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management director. “If you wait it’s going to get more complicated in the dark and puts you at risk.”

If you are considering moving to a warmer place you can call 512-305-ICEE (4233) for information on shelters. Those in need of food should call 211.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler says this severe weather situation is “almost beyond imagination” for Central Texas. He says all we can do right now is pull together as a community and check in with neighbors.

“This is one of those things that happens once in several generations,” he says, “that’s really going to require us all to pull together and help one another.”

Watch the video below on the city's Facebook page:

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