Texas governor declares investigation into electric grid operator after mass power outages during freeze

Southwest

AUSTIN, Texas (NewsNation Now) — Gov. Greg Abbott is calling on the Texas Legislature to investigate the state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, after millions of residents were left without power for days during record low temperatures.

Gov. Abbott on Tuesday declared reform of the council, which manages power flow in the state, an emergency item for the current legislative session.

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”

On Tuesday, Abbott declared the reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session.

The declaration marks the issue as a top priority. As of Tuesday morning, millions of Texans were without power after planned rolling blackouts turned into prolonged outages and are still not back online.

Abbott declared reform of the council, which manages power flow in the state, an emergency item for the current legislative session.

“Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item 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 acting quickly on this challenge, and I will work with them to enhance Texas’ electric grid and ensure that our state never experiences power outages like this again.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 3 million customers across Texas remain without power, while temperatures have dipped into the single digits. ERCOT has asked customers to reduce electricity use as much as possible through Tuesday, including closing shades to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows and avoiding the use of large appliances.

ERCOT said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon to continue expecting rolling blackouts as energy supply remains low across the state. An ERCOT offical warned that power might be disconnected from some areas that just got it back if supply remains too low.

When asked about preparations for this year’s winter storm, ERCOT said they based all their winterization plans off a severe storm in February 2011. The grid expected severe weather, but nothing surpassing the 2011 levels of demand.

“We have plans to cover abnormal weather, but this is beyond what we planned for, ” explained an ERCOT spokesman.

ERCOT also stressed that COVID-19 did not prevent them from implementing winterization to their plants and generators.

“Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions,” Gov. Abbott said. “I thank my partners in the House and Senate for acting quickly on this challenge, and I will work with them to enhance Texas’ electric grid and ensure that our state never experiences power outages like this again.”

ERCOT told NewsNation affiliate KXAN on Tuesday that the reason for the initial rolling blackouts in some areas has been to maintain the state’s energy grid. What this means is ERCOT advises power companies on how much they have available to use safely at any given time. Then, those utility companies decide how to manage the energy, ERCOT CEO and President Bill Magnus told KXAN.

“We just tell them the amount we need from an engineering, from a grid perspective, and they manage the local plan and how it’s undertaken,” he said.

Magness explained that ERCOT’s primary function is to keep the “balance of supply and demand on the grid,” to ensure large collapses don’t happen.

“As hard as these outages are, they avoid a much more catastrophic situation,” he said.

KXAN reports Austin Energy warns the ongoing power outages will likely extend into Wednesday. It sent a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon warning customers to prepare for another night without power.

“While ERCOT says conditions are improving, we want customers to know this is a dynamic situation and conditions are changing throughout the day. Customers should be prepared to not have power through Tuesday night and possibly longer,” Austin Energy wrote.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry issued a scathing statement Tuesday on ERCOT’s performance during the storm.

Sunday evening, we were asked to communicate the message that rolling blackouts were likely as a means to protect the electrical grid in Galveston County — and really all of the state of Texas. What we quickly found out was that they weren’t rolling at all. They went off and they have stayed off for as much as 48 hours at this point and counting. This is unacceptable. The ERCOT, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, has proven to be anything but reliable, and it’s not like they didn’t know this was coming. The forecasted ice storm was in the forecast for at least a week prior to the event. There’s not much we can do at the local level, other than continue to communicate with the energy providers — which so far has not produced a lot of results. I will be asking for accountability in Austin and possibly an overhaul of the state’s electrical capacity and the electrical plan for the state of Texas.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry

NewsNation affiliate KXAN and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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