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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.

Texas' Grid Operator Wants To Make Power Outages Consistently Shorter — But Might Not Be Able To Wednesday

A snow covered Matilda Street in Dallas after a winter storm hit the area on Monday.
Ben Torres for The Texas Tribune
A snow covered Matilda Street in Dallas after a winter storm hit the area on Monday.

The operators of Texas’ power grid said Wednesday that their best-case scenario is returning energy customers in the state to short rolling blackouts soon, with the aim that most homes will not experience outages longer than 30 minutes to an hour at a time.

But Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told reporters during a virtual news conference that he did not think it was likely that could start to happen "today or before at least the morning tomorrow."

That projection, he said, was based on forecasts and information being received from generators. Many Texans are currently facing hours-long outages during freezing weather— or have been without power for days.

Bill Magness, ERCOT's president and CEO, said during the news conference that he's optimistic that the state's grid will see some of the power it has lost return Wednesday as the state warms slightly from a massive winter storm that prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to declare an emergency for all 254 counties.

"Looking at the next couple of days," he said, "if those things break right and we get the generation online in the quantity we need to, we're optimistic we could move through this."

Magness said ERCOT has been unable to project specifics on when long-lasting power outages would end "because of the variables we've identified around the resources, the weather."

ERCOT, a nonprofit that manages the power grid used by almost all of the state, has come under scrutiny this week after a massive winter storm caused millions of residents to lose power for long spans during below freezing temperatures. During the frigid weather, which has brought massive demand for electricity, 185 power generating units have tripped offline, ERCOT officials said Wednesday, with some failing multiple times. The loss has come from multiple sources of power — including natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear.

On Wednesday morning, ERCOT said around 2.8 million customers were offline.

Abbott declared Tuesday reforming ERCOT an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session and hours later said he thinks leadership at the entity should resign. Abbott earmarking the issue as a top priority for the Legislature allows state lawmakers to take up legislation related to it during the first 60 days of the session, which began Jan. 12. Committees in both the House and Senate are set to hold hearings in the coming weeks on the issue.

Magness, asked Wednesday about Abbott saying ERCOT leadership should resign, said an assessment "can be done after we get the power back on" and defended grid operators who imposed outages early Monday in an attempt to avoid a complete shutdown of the grid.

"Blame can be assessed — very soon blame will surely be assessed," he said when asked why residents should trust ERCOT to lead the state out of the weather crisis. "But this team that has been protecting the grid from a much worse situation are really the key people who will lead us out and who have saved us from those sorts of very bad blackout situations in the past."

From The Texas Tribune

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