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18-05-2021 · Why does Texas have no power? The two major American energy grids – and Texas By not being connected to the larger grid, Texas was able to avoid regulations on trading electricity across states. Some experts say this lack of regulation is why the Texas grid wasn’t properly maintained and, in turn, failed with these stressors.

18-05-2021

The two major American energy grids – and Texas By not being connected to the larger grid, Texas was able to avoid regulations on trading electricity across states. Some experts say this lack of regulation is why the Texas grid wasn’t properly maintained and, in turn, failed with these stressors.

Why did the Texas power grid fail?

About 46,000 megawatts of power — enough to provide electricity to 9 million homes on a high-demand day — were taken off the grid last week due to power-generating failures stemming from winter storms that battered the state for nearly seven consecutive days.

Where does Texas get most of its electricity?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Texas both produces and consumes more electricity than any other state….Exhibit 2: Texas Electricity Generation by Fuel, 2019.

Fuel GWh Generated Share of Total
Natural Gas 181,770 47.4 %
Coal 77,857 20.3 %
Wind 76,708 20.0 %
Nuclear 41,314 10.8 %

Where does Houston get its electricity?

Texas wind turbines have produced more electricity than both of the state’s nuclear power plants since 2014. Texas produces more electricity than any other state, generating almost twice as much as Florida, the second-highest electricity-producing state.

What kind of power does Texas use?

Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of energy in Texas’ power grid. In 2015, wind power generation supplied 11% of Texas’ energy grid. Last year it supplied 23% of the system’s power, surpassing coal as the second-largest source of energy. But natural gas still leads the way in the state.

How much power does Houston use?

Houston’s also been #1 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Top 30 Local Government list of green power users. The city uses nearly one billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable power annually, representing 85 percent of its total power needs.

When did Houston get electricity?

It began operations in 1882. In 1999 Houston Industries changed its name to Reliant Energy. Therefore HL&P was renamed Reliant Energy HL&P/Entex. When the state of Texas deregulated the electricity market, HL&P was split into several companies.

How many people in Houston are without power?

Statewide, there are about 600,000 Texans without power. As temperatures have moderated, more plants have come back online, generating more power for the state.

How many are without power in Houston?

1.2 million

Has Houston ever had snow?

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Snow in Houston doesn’t happen every winter, but it does happen. In fact, since 1881, it has snowed 94 times in Houston.

Texas has its own power grid. Here's why.

16-02-2021 · The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after …

16-02-2021

Why does Texas have its own electric grid?

Texas' secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas.

The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of the same name — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT does not actually cover all of Texas. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas. This presumably has to do with the history of various utilities' service territories and the remoteness of the non-ERCOT locations (for example the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas, notes Kenneth Starcher of the Alternative Energy Institute in Canyon), but Texplainer is still figuring out the particulars on this.

DO NOT TRY: Man goes skiing in traffic on I-10 in Houston as snow piles on highway

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after Thomas Edison turned on the country's first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, small generating plants sprouted across Texas, bringing electric light to cities. Later, particularly during the first world war, utilities began to link themselves together. These ties, and the accompanying transmission network, grew further during the second world war, when several Texas utilities joined together to form the Texas Interconnected System, which allowed them to link to the big dams along Texas rivers and also send extra electricity to support the ramped-up factories aiding the war effort.

The Texas Interconnected System — which for a long time was actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern Texas and one for southern Texas — had another priority: staying out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. "Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s," writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article, "The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight Connection." (Self-reliance was also made easier in Texas, especially in the early days, because the state has substantial coal, natural gas and oil resources of its own to fuel power plants.)

SNOWPOCALYPSE: How the Internet is reacting to insane cold in Texas

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. The agency assumed additional responsibilities following electric deregulation in Texas a decade ago. The ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and regulates interstate electric transmission.

Historically, the Texas grid's independence has been violated a few times. Once was during World War II, when special provisions were made to link Texas to other grids, according to Cudahy. Another episode occurred in 1976 after a Texas utility, for reasons relating to its own regulatory needs, deliberately flipped a switch and sent power to Oklahoma for a few hours. This event, known as the "Midnight Connection," set off a major legal battle that could have brought Texas under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, but it was ultimately resolved in favor of continued Texan independence.

Even today, ERCOT is also not completely isolated from other grids — as was evident  when the state imported some power from Mexico during the rolling blackouts of 2011. ERCOT has three ties to Mexico and — as an outcome of the "Midnight Connection" battle — it also has two ties to the eastern U.S. grid, though they do not trigger federal regulation for ERCOT. All can move power commercially as well as be used in emergencies, according to ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark. A possible sixth interconnection project, in Rusk County, is being studied, and another ambitious proposal, called Tres Amigas, would link the three big U.S. grids together in New Mexico, though Texas' top utility regulator has shown little enthusiasm for participating.

Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the feds.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas is an Energy Producer. Why Are Millions Without Power?

16-02-2021 · Texas is on its own power grid. What does that mean? Texas’ ERCOT power grid is one of three in the Lower 48 states. While the two other grids, the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, cover huge swaths of the country, ERCOT covers about 90% of Texas. El Paso, parts of the northern Panhandle, and some eastern Texas regions are not part of ERCOT and get their energy …

16-02-2021

TEXAS — Millions of Texans remain without heat and electricity as temperatures plunge below freezing across the state. More winter weather is on the way, and many Texans who have been without heat since early Monday morning are scrambling to find alternative shelter. 

The unprecedented winter weather stressed the state’s power grid, forcing power companies to impose blackouts to conserve energy to keep critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants online. 

The power loss has many in Texas and the nation questioning why the world’s third-biggest gas producer hasn’t been able to keep all its residents’ lights on and houses heated.

Spectrum News 1 reached out to several energy experts looking for answers.

What happened to Texas' power grid?

Texas’s power grid was inundated with a record demand Sunday night as temperatures dropped and consumers turned to their thermostats for relief. Snow and freezing temperatures are not totally uncommon in many parts of Texas and certainly not in the western half of the state. But single-digit temperatures in other parts of the state are. Combine that with at least half a foot of snow in the capital as well as other parts of Texas, and this week’s winter storm was truly unusual. 

Meanwhile, power suppliers to the state’s grid were knocked offline as the weather wreaked havoc on their operating systems. Freezing temperatures battered gas lines and coal suppliers, which were the bulk of the suppliers who went offline. Wind turbines collected ice and had to be shut down. 

With fewer power sources feeding the grid, supply could not keep up with the surge in demand, so the operator of the state’s electric grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, instructed electricity distributors across its network to begin rotating power outages to its customers, except in places feeding power to critical facilities, such as hospitals, fire stations and water treatment plants. 

Those rolling outages were supposed to last about 10 to 45 minutes each. But by Tuesday afternoon, millions were still without power in heat in Texas with no end in sight to the blackouts.

“Everything happened at once, but there was no single point failure,” said Michael Webber, the deputy director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute. “The simplest explanation is that supply and demand got out of balance. The demand is quite high because of heating, and the supply is constrained by failures in the system and because of the weather.”

Weather-related power outages happen in other places, and that isn’t unusual. 

What's different in Texas is “how widespread this is and also that it's happening in the energy capital of the world,” Webber said.

Texas is the third largest gas producer in the world after Russia and the United States.

“For a state so abundant in energy, to have energy shortages seems more striking than for a state that depends on others to run out of energy,” Webber said.

Texas is on its own power grid. What does that mean?

Texas’ ERCOT power grid is one of three in the Lower 48 states. While the two other grids, the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, cover huge swaths of the country, ERCOT covers about 90% of Texas. El Paso, parts of the northern Panhandle, and some eastern Texas regions are not part of ERCOT and get their energy from one of the other two U.S. power grids.

ERCOT’s responsibility is to manage grid reliability and to coordinate with the various power distributors and power generators across the state. Because it does not provide power across state lines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has no jurisdiction over ERCOT.

Being free from federal government regulation has been a source of pride for many in the state and is in tune with many political movements for the state to stand on its own, far away from the federal government’s oversight. 

“The question is probably as political more than anything else,” said Carey King, a research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin and the assistant director at the Energy Institute.

“The historical reason of why EROCT doesn't cross state lines is specifically designed to avoid being regulated by the federal government,” he said. “That's why Texas doesn't do it, because Texas doesn't like to be under federal regulations.”

Talk of having ERCOT join with other grids is not unheard of, however, Webber said.

As the week’s power outages continue, there may be renewed calls to discuss bringing Texas’ power grid in line with one of the other grids in order to mitigate power shortages like Texas saw this week with supplies from other states.

“Ideas of interconnection have been around since the 60s,” Webber said. “But it might have different support now because the resilience and economic arguments of interconnection might seem more vibrant this time around.”

Texas consumes a lot of power during the hot and humid months. Why don't we see massive power shortages then?

This is somewhat easier to answer. Texas temperatures in the summer can be well over 100 for days and weeks at a time, and the humidity in the southern parts can drive even the heartiest heat lover inside to seek relief in the air conditioning. For many months of the year, air conditioning is a way of life across the state.

During the peak summer heat, power demand can be 70 gigawatts, King said. 

Because the state expects hot and humid weather during the summer months, ERCOT can plan ahead for supply distribution and avoid rotating blackouts. Another factor is key here, too: Hot weather does not affect power suppliers to the grid the way this week’s winter storm has impacted those suppliers, throwing them offline and reducing supply, King said.

What can be done to avoid this in the future?

Lawmakers are already demanding answers. 

Gov. Greg Abbot said Tuesday that reforming ERCOT should be a top priority of the legislative session, which began on Jan. 12. 

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “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.” 

Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan wants the Legislature to hold hearings on statewide blackouts. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had called for an investigation into why “we are where we are today.”

Could some of this have been avoided? Or at least not been as devastating to so many Texans still living without heat and power?

Webber of the University of Texas at Austin argued that while this weeks’ storm was more powerful than what Texas has seen in many decades, the power shortages were not unprecedented. Ten years ago on Feb. 8, 2011, the state had a cold snap that caused ERCOT to demand power distributors to conduct rotating outages in parts of Texas.

After that experience, lessons were learned about how the state could prepare for a similar winter weather emergency, Webber said. 

“We could have spent the last decade weatherizing our power plants,” Webbe said. “We could have spent the decade improving efficiency in our homes so that it would take less energy to heat our homes. It would have helped for us to diversify the options we have for energy, including batteries, microgrids, and storage that make it easier for us to have our heat energy even when the grid goes out.”

What happened in 2011 was roughly about 36 hours, not what could be days on end as ERCOT announced Tuesday that it could not predict when the power supply would be back in balance with demand.  

"It's a tremendous breakdown in the system and this is one that's been coming many years," Ed Hirs, professor of energy economics at the University of Houston, said in an interview on Capital Tonight. "You can't have generators receiving wholesale prices that are less than the actual cost of providing generation. And so our generators did not reinvest, they neglected to keep their equipment up and failed to winterize."

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More FAQs for why texas has no power
  • Why are millions in Texas still without power?

    Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

    DALLAS -- The power outages tormenting Texas in uncharacteristically Arctic temperatures are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather's seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable — conditions that most experts believe no longer exist.

    This isn't just happening in Texas, of course. Utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have imposed rolling blackouts to ease the strain on electrical grids buckling under high demand during the past few days. And power outages have become a rite of summer and autumn in California, partly to reduce the chances of deadly wildfires.

    But the fact more than 3 million bone-chilled Texans have lost their electricity in a state that takes pride in its energy independence underscores the gravity of a problem that is occurring in the U.S. with increasing frequency.

    WHAT HAPPENED IN TEXAS?

    Plunging temperatures caused Texans to turn up their heaters, including many inefficient electric ones. Demand spiked to levels normally seen only on the hottest summer days, when millions of air conditioners run at full tilt.

    The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about 86,000 megawatts in the summer. The gap between the winter and summer supply reflects power plants going offline for maintenance during months when demand typically is less intense and there's not as much energy coming from wind and solar sources.

    But planning for this winter didn’t imagine temperatures cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and stop wind turbines from spinning. By Wednesday, 46,000 megawatts of power were offline statewide — 28,000 from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants and 18,000 from wind and solar, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.

    “Every one of our sources of power supply underperformed," Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, tweeted. “Every one of them is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events in different ways. None of them were adequately weatherized or prepared for a full realm of weather and conditions."

    The staggering imbalance between Texas' energy supply and demand also caused prices to skyrocket from roughly per megawatt hour to ,000 per megawatt hour in the state's freewheeling wholesale power market.

    That raised questions whether some power generators who buy in the wholesale market may have had a profit motive to avoid buying more natural gas and simply shut down instead.

    “We can’t speculate on people’s motivations in that way,” said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT. He added he had been told by generators that they were doing everything possible to provide power.

    WHY WASN'T THE STATE PREPARED?

    Gas-fired plants and wind turbines can be protected against winter weather — it’s done routinely in colder, northern states. The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow, but they are strictly voluntary and also require expensive investments in equipment and other necessary measures.

    An ERCOT official, Dan Woodfin, said plant upgrades after 2011 limited shutdowns during a similar cold snap in 2018, but this week’s weather was “more extreme.”

    Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, rejected ERCOT’s claim that this week’s freeze was unforeseeable.

    “That’s nonsense,” he said. “Every eight to 10 years we have really bad winters. This is not a surprise.”

    In California, regulators last week ordered the state’s three major utilities to increase their power supply and potentially make plant improvements to avoid another supply shortage like the one that cropped up in California six months ago and resulted in rolling blackouts affecting about 500,000 people for a few hours at a time.

    “One big difference is that leadership in California recognizes that climate change is happening, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Texas,” said Severin Borenstein, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley who has been studying power supply issues for more than 20 years.

    WHY THE NEED FOR ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

    Grid operators say rolling blackouts are a last resort when power demand overwhelms supply and threatens to create a wider collapse of the whole power system.

    Usually, utilities black out certain blocks or zones before cutting off power to another area, then another. Often areas with hospitals, fire stations, water-treatment plants and other key facilities are spared.

    By rolling the blackouts, no neighborhoods are supposed to go an unfairly long period of time without power, but that was not always the case this week in Texas. Some areas never lost power, while others were blacked out for 12 hours or longer as temperatures dipped into the single digits.

    WHEN DO THEY OCCUR?

    Rolling blackouts are usually triggered when reserves fall below a certain level. In Texas, as in California last August, grid operators tell utilities to reduce load on the entire system, and it is up to the utilities to decide how to do that.

    In Texas this week, grid operators and utilities knew about the dire weather forecast for at least a week. Last weekend they issued appeals for power conservation, and ERCOT tweeted that residents should “unplug the fancy new appliances you bought during the pandemic and only used once."

    The lighthearted attempts at humor were lost on residents, few if any of whom were told in advance when their homes would lose power. Once the outages started, some utilities were unable to provide information about how long they might last.

    WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

    Start with the obvious steps: When power companies or grid operators warn about trouble coming, turn down your thermostat and avoid using major appliances. Of course, those steps are sometimes easier said than done, especially during record-breaking temperatures.

    Like in other places, Texans might be more willing to adjust their thermostats a few more notches if regulators imposed a system that required households to pay higher prices during periods of peak demand and lower rates at other times.

    “People turn up their furnaces now because there isn't a financial incentive for them not to do it," Borenstein said.

    Experts also say more fundamental — and costly — changes must be made. Generators must insulate pipelines and other equipment. Investments in electricity storage and distribution would help. Tougher building codes would make homes in places like Texas better insulated against the cold.

    Texas, which has a grid largely disconnected from others to avoid federal regulation, may have to rethink the go-it-alone strategy. There could be pressure for the state to require power generators to keep more plants in reserve for times of peak demand, a step it has so far resisted.

    “The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin. “We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have.”

    ———

    Koenig reported from Dallas, Liedtke reported from San Ramon, California. The AP's Paul Weber contributed to this story from Austin, Texas.

    EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond
  • Did you know Texas has its own power grid?

    You might have heard that Texas has its own power grid. Did you know not all parts of the state use it? Millions of Texans were left in the dark for days after winter storms triggered power outages.

    While millions of Texans were left in the dark this week after an arctic blast pummeled the state, not every part of Texas experienced major electricity issues.

    Texas has an unusual power setup. Unlike the other states in the union, which are mostly interconnected, Texas has its own power grid. That grid, which operates as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, covers 90% of the state. The other 10% includes El Paso, the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas.

    These areas, for various reasons, including proximity, instead get their electricity from other grid providers. For example, the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas.

    The main culprit for the power outages in ERCOT’s coverage area was failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to the extreme temperatures. From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all power sources faced difficulties during the winter storm. Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

    Energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune this week that limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis. They said Texas’ decisions not to require equipment upgrades to withstand extreme winter temperatures and to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left the power system unprepared for this week’s outages.

    But the weather didn’t plunge other parts of the state into darkness. Their grids were equipped to withstand those frigid temperatures.

    Take El Paso, for instance. El Paso’s power was originally all local, but it started looking for other resources in the 1960s as the population grew, including turning to a New Mexico power plant. Then in the late 1970s, El Paso Electric became part owner of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.

    “You look where El Paso is, and people not from this area don’t understand. I can get from Los Angeles faster than I can get to Houston,” said Steven T. Buraczyk, senior vice president of operations for El Paso Electric. “Economically it just made more sense for us to be part of the Western grid because of where we’re located.”

    El Paso also has access to the Montana Power Station, built on the east side of town after the hard freeze in 2011 that left the city without power and water. Buraczyk said officials made several critical decisions after that storm to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, including having its equipment being able to withstand low temperatures as low as negative 10 degrees.

    “We went back and did some better insulation and weatherization to withstand colder temperatures,” said Buraczyk. “But the biggest thing, in my mind, is we built another power plant. It’s difficult to retrofit something that is 50 or 60 years old. And have as good results as when you’re just building it.”

    Earlier this week, El Paso Electric spokesperson Eddie Gutierrez told El Paso TV station KTSM that “only 875 customers were impacted by an outage of less than five minutes” because they were better prepared this time around.

    The Panhandle also escaped major damage this week. Residents there have dealt with short, rolling blackouts but nothing like the dayslong outages in the other parts of the state, reports Amarillo TV station KAMR. Most of the Texas Panhandle and South Plains get their power from Xcel Energy, serviced by the Southwest Power Pool. That power grid spans 14 states, which allows them to share power when there’s a need. The region SPP serves also experienced harsh weather conditions this week, which is why the Panhandle experience some power outages.

    Xcel Energy spokesperson Wes Reeves told KAMR the company has spent time and effort weatherizing its power plants in the last decade.

    The Beaumont area is serviced by Entergy, which also beefed up its weatherization efforts before the storm. That allowed them to have fewer long-term outages compared with other parts of the state, Houston’s KHOU-TV reports.

    Beaumont residents still experienced rolling outages after its power grid, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, became overwhelmed by the all-time high demand for electricity. At one point this week, about 33,000 residents experienced these outages. On Thursday, Entergy said it hoped to restore power to its customers by the end of the day.

    Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. and Entergy have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

    Why Texas power outages didn't affect some parts of the
  • Why is Texas so unusual in power outages?

    While millions of Texans were left in the dark this week after an arctic blast pummeled the state, not every part of Texas experienced major electricity issues. Texas has an unusual power setup. Unlike the other states in the union, which are mostly interconnected, Texas has its own power grid.

    While millions of Texans were left in the dark this week after an arctic blast pummeled the state, not every part of Texas experienced major electricity issues.

    Texas has an unusual power setup. Unlike the other states in the union, which are mostly interconnected, Texas has its own power grid. That grid, which operates as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, covers 90% of the state. The other 10% includes El Paso, the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas.

    These areas, for various reasons, including proximity, instead get their electricity from other grid providers. For example, the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas.

    The main culprit for the power outages in ERCOT’s coverage area was failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to the extreme temperatures. From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all power sources faced difficulties during the winter storm. Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

    Energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune this week that limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis. They said Texas’ decisions not to require equipment upgrades to withstand extreme winter temperatures and to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left the power system unprepared for this week’s outages.

    But the weather didn’t plunge other parts of the state into darkness. Their grids were equipped to withstand those frigid temperatures.

    Take El Paso, for instance. El Paso’s power was originally all local, but it started looking for other resources in the 1960s as the population grew, including turning to a New Mexico power plant. Then in the late 1970s, El Paso Electric became part owner of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.

    “You look where El Paso is, and people not from this area don’t understand. I can get from Los Angeles faster than I can get to Houston,” said Steven T. Buraczyk, senior vice president of operations for El Paso Electric. “Economically it just made more sense for us to be part of the Western grid because of where we’re located.”

    El Paso also has access to the Montana Power Station, built on the east side of town after the hard freeze in 2011 that left the city without power and water. Buraczyk said officials made several critical decisions after that storm to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, including having its equipment being able to withstand low temperatures as low as negative 10 degrees.

    “We went back and did some better insulation and weatherization to withstand colder temperatures,” said Buraczyk. “But the biggest thing, in my mind, is we built another power plant. It’s difficult to retrofit something that is 50 or 60 years old. And have as good results as when you’re just building it.”

    Earlier this week, El Paso Electric spokesperson Eddie Gutierrez told El Paso TV station KTSM that “only 875 customers were impacted by an outage of less than five minutes” because they were better prepared this time around.

    The Panhandle also escaped major damage this week. Residents there have dealt with short, rolling blackouts but nothing like the dayslong outages in the other parts of the state, reports Amarillo TV station KAMR. Most of the Texas Panhandle and South Plains get their power from Xcel Energy, serviced by the Southwest Power Pool. That power grid spans 14 states, which allows them to share power when there’s a need. The region SPP serves also experienced harsh weather conditions this week, which is why the Panhandle experience some power outages.

    Xcel Energy spokesperson Wes Reeves told KAMR the company has spent time and effort weatherizing its power plants in the last decade.

    The Beaumont area is serviced by Entergy, which also beefed up its weatherization efforts before the storm. That allowed them to have fewer long-term outages compared with other parts of the state, Houston’s KHOU-TV reports.

    Beaumont residents still experienced rolling outages after its power grid, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, became overwhelmed by the all-time high demand for electricity. At one point this week, about 33,000 residents experienced these outages. On Thursday, Entergy said it hoped to restore power to its customers by the end of the day.

    Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. and Entergy have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

    Why Texas power outages didn't affect some parts of the
  • Why is there a power crisis in Texas?

    Also feeding the crisis were several factors unique to Texas. Most of the Lone Star State is on a power grid that’s separate from the western and eastern U.S. grids, a decades-old bid to avoid interstate regulation but one that reduces the Texas grid’s flexibility.

    It wasn’t a torrid heat wave or a Category 5 hurricane that brought the Texas electrical grid to its knees on February 15. Instead, it was the most widespread and intense cold and snow in decades.

    The frigid onslaught triggered a cascade of events that left millions of Texans shivering in the darkness of unheated, unlit homes. Temperatures sank well below freezing all the way to the Texas coast, putting Houston below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly 48 hours and leaving countless records broken on the icy plains.

    All-time lows were set in Tyler (-5°F) and Longview (-6°F), and a bone-chilling -20°F was reported in the Texas Panhandle.

    Frozen wind turbines played only small role in Texas outages

    Many – including some prominent climate change contrarians – were quick to pin the “electric emergency” on the massive turbines that make Texas the leading U.S. state for wind energy. While the deep freeze did knock some turbines offline, practically every mode of energy supply was hobbled by the intense cold, snow, and ice.

    The main cause of the massive disruption, by far, were the frozen components leading to the outage of thermal plants that heat water and convert the steam to electricity. The vast bulk of those thermal plants are powered by natural gas. In addition, the South Texas Nuclear Plant was thrown out of service Monday as a result of frozen pipes, which cut even further into the Houston area’s electricity supply.

    Also feeding the crisis were several factors unique to Texas. Most of the Lone Star State is on a power grid that’s separate from the western and eastern U.S. grids, a decades-old bid to avoid interstate regulation but one that reduces the Texas grid’s flexibility. The state’s deregulated, just-in-time energy marketplace is also a factor, as it leans on production versus storage – a risk when natural gas lines freeze up – and it allows for massive price spikes during weather outages.

    The three main components of the North American power grid are the Western and Eastern Interconnections and the ERCOT Interconnection, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and encompassing most of the state. (Image credit: ERCOT)

    Investigations after similar but less-extensive Texas freeze disasters in 1989 and 2011 pinned much of the blame on equipment that was insufficiently protected against extreme cold, a threat that’s infrequent in Texas but notoriously brutal when it does arrive. “Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011,” according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission.

    “I think the Texas freeze will become the new poster child for compound weather and energy disasters,” said atmospheric scientist Daniel Cohan of Rice University, who’s working on a book about energy and climate change. “The challenges faced this week will likely be studied for years to come, and they show how tough it is to achieve resilience in a changing climate during an energy transition.”

    Overall, of course, the temperature trend points to more warming. In Texas and in most other U.S. locations, the coldest winter temperatures have been steadily rising, according to data compiled by the nonprofit science and communications group Climate Central. Yet a warming climate doesn’t preclude the occasional extreme wintry blast.

    It’s also possible, though not universally accepted, that depleted sea ice and amplified Arctic warming are exacerbating at least some mid-latitude cold episodes, a topic of lively, ongoing research debate.

    U.S. electric grid is uniquely vulnerable: This ‘doesn’t happen everywhere’

    The week’s U.S. power woes extended well beyond Texas, the result of an unusually prolonged and widespread bout of frigid air and frozen precipitation. According to poweroutage.us, some 175,000 customers were without power in Oregon on the evening of February 16. They were joined by more than 200,000 customers in Kentucky and West Virginia, and 3.2 million customers still powerless in Texas.

    More trouble is looming in the forecast, with fresh winter-weather watches and warnings in place from Austin to Boston. All told, this sequence of mid-February storms could end up interrupting power for well over 10 million Americans.

    To put it bluntly, this kind of situation doesn’t happen everywhere. In fact, it happens more often in the U.S. than in any other developed country, according to the University of Minnesota’s Massoud Amin, a founding expert in smart-grid technology. Amin has found that utility customers lose power for an average of 4 minutes annually in Japan, compared to 92 minutes per year in the Upper Midwest.

    “We are behind all other G7 nations in our infrastructure, including the power grid,” Amin said.

    One clear factor is America’s outsized crop of extreme weather. Another is the vast number of weather-vulnerable U.S. power lines that lie overhead, especially in older eastern cities. Nations such as Germany and the Netherlands prioritize burying power lines, a process that’s costly but that helps reduce the havoc resulting from extreme weather.

    Between 2010 and 2019, the U.S. had an increase of 67% in major weather-related power outages (those affecting at least 50,000 customers) as compared to 2000-2009, as tracked by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and analyzed by Climate Central. These outages cost an average of to billion per year, with the indirect costs much higher.

    For 2020, DOE reported 118 major outages, the second-largest annual total this century. That ranks behind only 2011, a year with record tornado damage.

    What’s more, the aging U.S. grid is being hit hard by compound weather disasters, those occurring near each other in time or space – or both. From the final week of October 2020 into early November, three far-flung areas experienced nine major outages, some lasting more than a week. The culprit was a strange juxtaposition of weather disasters that included an exceptionally early and destructive ice storm and a very late-season hurricane landfall.

    • Wildfires in California, 10/25-10/27 (506,000 customers)
    • Ice storm in Oklahoma, 10/27-11/7 (682,000 customers)
    • Hurricane Zeta in and near Louisiana, 10/28-11/2 (1,099,000 customers)

    How climate change is stressing the grid

    Compound disasters are a topic of growing interest among researchers. They point out that the total impact of compound events can be much greater than the sum of their parts. For example, the nation’s limited supply of utility repair crews can get stretched beyond its ability to respond.

    Climate change is already exacerbating some potential threats to the power grid: for instance, the ramped-up intensity of heat waves and the increased frequency of sprawling “stuck” weather patterns in summertime.

    Colin Raymond of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is lead author on an essay published last summer in Nature Climate Change that delves into understanding and managing compound and connected weather and climate disasters. Raymond draws a distinction between compound weather and climate events – often linked to a single, persistent large-scale weather pattern – and connected events, which occur when compound events are “amplified by societal networks.” According to Raymond, the latter “leads to impacts that are larger or have a different spatiotemporal pattern than they would otherwise.”

    The coast-to-coast power outages of February 2021 are one example. In their Nature Climate Change essay, Raymond and colleagues highlight another: the sequential assault from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria within a month’s time in the summer of 2017.

    By the time Maria struck Puerto Rico, the study noted, U.S. emergency response systems had been stretched thin by Hurricane Harvey striking Texas the previous month and Hurricane Irma hitting Florida the previous week. On top of Puerto Rico’s pre-existing vulnerabilities – including under-maintained infrastructure, limited budgets, an aging population, and lack of statehood benefits – relief supplies pre-negotiated by FEMA had been drained by Harvey and Irma. The agency rushed into new arrangements that were plagued with problems, including steep markups.

    Damaged power lines were strewn across Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017, when a military convoy including Governor Ricardo Rosselló visited the cities of Loiza and Canóvanas to survey destruction left by Hurricane Maria. (Image credit: Puerto Rico National Guard, via Flickr)

    Scientists are exploring an array of new tools to help examine how compound and connected events are intertwined and how policymakers can unravel the knots. According to Raymond and colleagues, “impacts can serve as a winnowing device to identify what combinations of extreme events matter.” Emerging computational and communication technologies could also make a big difference, especially with the help of high-quality, fine-grained impacts data.

    The most promising analog, according to Raymond and colleagues, may be in the spectacular progress of aviation safety. They call it a realm where “physical science, engineering, and social sciences have come together to successfully mitigate – despite greatly increasing system complexity – the frequency of disastrous failures.”

    How to keep the juice flowing

    As for the U.S. power grid, there’s no sign that weather and climate will be giving it a break anytime soon. With La Niña still in place, extended climate outlooks point to the potential for a drought-ridden spring across the western United States, perhaps extending into summer. In addition, tornadoes and hail tend to be more frequent in the southern Great Plains during La Niña springs, and La Niña often fosters an enhanced Atlantic hurricane season.

    Texas’ electricity calamity of 2021 is bound to trigger debate on how to keep the evolving U.S. grid robust during various types of disasters, especially as the nation becomes more reliant on electricity that will increasingly come from renewable sources. De-icing systems and cold-weather lubricants are used in many wind turbines in northern climates. Over time, grid-scale battery storage for wind and solar energy could play a major role.

    No matter how the sources and storage evolve, transmission and grid coordination are two Achilles’ heels that’ll have to be dealt with. Several companies are now using artificial intelligence to anticipate and track grid outages. In addition, decentralized microgrids could help distinct locations such as hospitals or college campuses keep the power going even during grid outages.

    “We need a smarter, stronger, more secure grid,” said Amin, who chaired the board of the Texas Reliability Entity (the regional council for ensuring bulk power access) for seven years. “My hat is off to grid operators and utilities in Texas and elsewhere who are trying to keep up a system that was never designed to handle such contingencies. We need to help them make it stronger and more resilient.”

    Collaboration among weather, climate, and energy researchers could also help ensure the grid is equipped to handle the mix of weather extremes that the evolving climate will be flinging our way.

    “No infrastructural relic may be as vulnerable as the U.S. electric grid,” environmental scientist Urooj Raja of the University of Colorado Boulder wrote in a 2020 essay for The Hill. “As climate change escalates and disrupts weather patterns, our country must update the grid, immediately, or risk losing not only power, but lives.”

    Website visitors can comment on “Eye on the Storm” posts (see below). Please read our Comments Policy prior to posting. (See all EOTS posts here. Sign up to receive notices of new postings here.)

    Why the power is out in Texas ... and why other states are
EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond ...

The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow ...

DALLAS -- The power outages tormenting Texas in uncharacteristically Arctic temperatures are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather's seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable — conditions that most experts believe no longer exist.

This isn't just happening in Texas, of course. Utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have imposed rolling blackouts to ease the strain on electrical grids buckling under high demand during the past few days. And power outages have become a rite of summer and autumn in California, partly to reduce the chances of deadly wildfires.

But the fact more than 3 million bone-chilled Texans have lost their electricity in a state that takes pride in its energy independence underscores the gravity of a problem that is occurring in the U.S. with increasing frequency.

WHAT HAPPENED IN TEXAS?

Plunging temperatures caused Texans to turn up their heaters, including many inefficient electric ones. Demand spiked to levels normally seen only on the hottest summer days, when millions of air conditioners run at full tilt.

The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about 86,000 megawatts in the summer. The gap between the winter and summer supply reflects power plants going offline for maintenance during months when demand typically is less intense and there's not as much energy coming from wind and solar sources.

But planning for this winter didn’t imagine temperatures cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and stop wind turbines from spinning. By Wednesday, 46,000 megawatts of power were offline statewide — 28,000 from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants and 18,000 from wind and solar, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.

“Every one of our sources of power supply underperformed," Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, tweeted. “Every one of them is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events in different ways. None of them were adequately weatherized or prepared for a full realm of weather and conditions."

The staggering imbalance between Texas' energy supply and demand also caused prices to skyrocket from roughly per megawatt hour to ,000 per megawatt hour in the state's freewheeling wholesale power market.

That raised questions whether some power generators who buy in the wholesale market may have had a profit motive to avoid buying more natural gas and simply shut down instead.

“We can’t speculate on people’s motivations in that way,” said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT. He added he had been told by generators that they were doing everything possible to provide power.

WHY WASN'T THE STATE PREPARED?

Gas-fired plants and wind turbines can be protected against winter weather — it’s done routinely in colder, northern states. The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow, but they are strictly voluntary and also require expensive investments in equipment and other necessary measures.

An ERCOT official, Dan Woodfin, said plant upgrades after 2011 limited shutdowns during a similar cold snap in 2018, but this week’s weather was “more extreme.”

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, rejected ERCOT’s claim that this week’s freeze was unforeseeable.

“That’s nonsense,” he said. “Every eight to 10 years we have really bad winters. This is not a surprise.”

In California, regulators last week ordered the state’s three major utilities to increase their power supply and potentially make plant improvements to avoid another supply shortage like the one that cropped up in California six months ago and resulted in rolling blackouts affecting about 500,000 people for a few hours at a time.

“One big difference is that leadership in California recognizes that climate change is happening, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Texas,” said Severin Borenstein, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley who has been studying power supply issues for more than 20 years.

WHY THE NEED FOR ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

Grid operators say rolling blackouts are a last resort when power demand overwhelms supply and threatens to create a wider collapse of the whole power system.

Usually, utilities black out certain blocks or zones before cutting off power to another area, then another. Often areas with hospitals, fire stations, water-treatment plants and other key facilities are spared.

By rolling the blackouts, no neighborhoods are supposed to go an unfairly long period of time without power, but that was not always the case this week in Texas. Some areas never lost power, while others were blacked out for 12 hours or longer as temperatures dipped into the single digits.

WHEN DO THEY OCCUR?

Rolling blackouts are usually triggered when reserves fall below a certain level. In Texas, as in California last August, grid operators tell utilities to reduce load on the entire system, and it is up to the utilities to decide how to do that.

In Texas this week, grid operators and utilities knew about the dire weather forecast for at least a week. Last weekend they issued appeals for power conservation, and ERCOT tweeted that residents should “unplug the fancy new appliances you bought during the pandemic and only used once."

The lighthearted attempts at humor were lost on residents, few if any of whom were told in advance when their homes would lose power. Once the outages started, some utilities were unable to provide information about how long they might last.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

Start with the obvious steps: When power companies or grid operators warn about trouble coming, turn down your thermostat and avoid using major appliances. Of course, those steps are sometimes easier said than done, especially during record-breaking temperatures.

Like in other places, Texans might be more willing to adjust their thermostats a few more notches if regulators imposed a system that required households to pay higher prices during periods of peak demand and lower rates at other times.

“People turn up their furnaces now because there isn't a financial incentive for them not to do it," Borenstein said.

Experts also say more fundamental — and costly — changes must be made. Generators must insulate pipelines and other equipment. Investments in electricity storage and distribution would help. Tougher building codes would make homes in places like Texas better insulated against the cold.

Texas, which has a grid largely disconnected from others to avoid federal regulation, may have to rethink the go-it-alone strategy. There could be pressure for the state to require power generators to keep more plants in reserve for times of peak demand, a step it has so far resisted.

“The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin. “We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have.”

———

Koenig reported from Dallas, Liedtke reported from San Ramon, California. The AP's Paul Weber contributed to this story from Austin, Texas.

What Really Caused The Texas Power Shortage? : NPR

18-02-2021 · ABBOTT: Wind and our solar got shut down. And they were, collectively, more than 10% of our power grid. And that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.

18-02-2021

Why has Texas had such devastating power shortages during the current winter storm? Some people, including prominent Republicans, are blaming wind power — but every power source has struggled to cope.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On this winter morning, millions of people in Texas remain without power, without clean water or both. It's an occasion for millions to struggle to keep friends and families safe. And for some political leaders, it is also an opportunity to spread misinformation. What really led to the Texas power crisis? Whether you get the truth or the trolling, depends on which channel you watch. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Earlier this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appeared on a Dallas TV station. And he didn't blame any one power source for this crisis. He noted natural gas was affected.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: It's just frozen right now. It's frozen in the pipeline.

DOMONOSKE: But then Abbott went on Fox News. And he said, actually, renewable energy was to blame

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABBOTT: Wind and our solar got shut down. And they were, collectively, more than 10% of our power grid. And that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.

DOMONOSKE: He said this showed how the green New Deal would be deadly. But the fact is that Abbott was right the first time. This storm, it pummeled the entire power generation system.

BILL MAGNESS: Really, it was across the board. We saw coal plants, gas plants, wind, solar, just all sorts of our resources trip off and not be able to perform.

DOMONOSKE: Bill Magness is the president and CEO of ERCOT - or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas - which manages the state electric grid. These frigid temperatures had people across Texas plugging in electric heaters all at once.

MAGNESS: Fundamentally, it is a historic storm that drove electric demand higher than we've ever seen by far.

DOMONOSKE: And at the exact same time, the supply of electricity went down. Wind turbines did freeze, so did natural gas wells and pipelines and water pipes at coal and nuclear plants. All of this frozen equipment meant power plants couldn't function. There simply wasn't enough electricity to go around.

JOSHUA RHODES: All types of generation, you know, have had issues.

DOMONOSKE: Joshua Rhodes is a research associate at UT Austin's Webber Energy Group. He's staying with a friend near Austin because his house doesn't have power. And he says this weather was just beyond what the entire system was ever designed to handle. It's like New England grappling with 105 degree temperatures.

RHODES: I mean, having more natural gas power plants wouldn't have helped us because we can't get gas to the ones we have right now.

DOMONOSKE: After a freeze a decade ago, the state recommended that power plants prepare for freak cold weather. But those measures are expensive and were never made mandatory. Texas also doesn't share electricity with nearby states in order to avoid federal regulations. Investigations into this disaster may well find blame to go around. But the data right now shows this was a system-wide failure caused by a storm much worse than the state was ready to handle.

LORI BIRD: I think the key point here is that we need to be prepared for these extreme events - right? - today and in the future, no matter what the generation source is because I think this event shows that all generation sources are vulnerable to these extreme events.

DOMONOSKE: Lori Bird directs the U.S. energy program at the World Resources Institute. She says the blame thrown at wind and solar is politics. And what's really needed is more preparation.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

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Why is Texas suffering power blackouts during the winter ...

18-02-2021 · Why is Texas on its own power grid? For as long as electricity has existed in Texas, the state, which prides itself on its independence has relied on itself for power.

18-02-2021

Millions of people in Texas have spent days in below-freezing temperatures without power in what officials have called a “total failure” of the state’s electricity infrastructure. How did oil- and gas-rich Texas – the biggest producer of energy in the US – get here?

While there are many factors that led to the power outages in Texas, the state’s power grid has come under intense scrutiny in light of the storm. Here’s what we know so far about Texas’s power grid and the role it played in the state’s winter disaster.

Who controls Texas’s power grid?

The “Lone Star” state likes to go it alone when it comes to delivering power to its residents. Texas is unique among the 48 contiguous US states in that it relies on its own power grid. The other 47 states are all part of the two power grids that service the eastern and western halves of the country.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as Ercot, manages the state’s power grid. Ercot is technically a non-profit corporation, and while it functions independently from the state’s government, the corporation is overseen by a state agency called the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Members of the commission are appointed by the state’s governor.

Texas is the only state in the country, besides Alaska and Hawaii, that is not part of either the Eastern Interconnection or Western Interconnection, the two main power grids in the US. This means that Texas is not regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc), the agency that oversees interstate electric transmission. Instead, Texas is basically “an electrical island in the United States”, as described by Bill Magness, CEO of Ercot. While this means that Texas has more control over electricity in the state, it also means there are fewer power plants the state can rely on for power.

Parts of Texas are not serviced by Ercot. El Paso at the western tip of the state gets power from the Western Interconnection, which is why the city has been saved from the most brutal effects of the power outages.

Why are so many people without power?

Ercot turned off power for millions of customers after several power plants shut down due to the below-freezing temperatures the state is experiencing. Officials at Ercot said the equipment at the plants could not handle the extreme, low temperatures. The choice was either shutting down power for customers or risking a collapse of the grid altogether.

Why is Texas on its own power grid?

For as long as electricity has existed in Texas, the state, which prides itself on its independence has relied on itself for power. Officials in the state have long had a stubborn will to stay out of the hands of federal regulators.

While Magness, Ercot’s CEO, said that the shutdown was due primarily to “reasons that have to do with the weather”, critics have said Texas’s energy market incentivizes cheap prices at the cost of delaying maintenance and improving power plants. In 2011, the state experienced similar blackouts, though for a shorter period of time compared with what has been seen this week.

Following those blackouts, the Ferc gave a series of recommendations to Ercot to prevent future blackouts, including increasing reserve levels and weatherizing facilities to protect them from cold weather.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, told the Washington Post that Ercot “limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances”.

Did renewable energy play a role in the grid’s malfunction?

While Republicans have been blaming frozen wind turbines for the state’s blackouts, officials and experts say that malfunctions in natural gas operations played the largest role in the power crisis.

Ercot said all of its sources of power, including those from renewable sources, were affected by the freezing temperatures. The state largely relies on natural gas for its power supply, though some comes from wind turbines and less from coal and nuclear sources.

Natural gas can handle the state’s high temperatures in the summer, but extreme cold weather makes it difficult for the gas to flow to power plants and heat homes. Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas Austin, told the Texas Tribune that “gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now”.

With the climate crisis likely to trigger more freak weather events like the one Texas is suffering it is noteworthy that there are places that experience frigidly cold weather that rely heavily on wind turbines and manage to have electricity in the winter. In Iowa, a state which sees freezing temperatures more often than Texas, nearly 40% of electricity is generated by wind turbines.

What are officials doing to prevent future blackouts?

With millions still without power as of late Wednesday, officials in Texas remain focused on getting power back to residents and remedying the damage from the storm. Politicians from both major parties have criticized Ercot for its handling of the storm, but officials have steered clear of providing examples of specific fixes. Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, has called for an investigation into Ercot, declaring it an emergency item for the state’s legislative session.

But some Texas leaders have made it clear that they believe Texas should remain independent from the national power grids. Rick Perry, a former governor of the state who also served as Donald Trump’s energy secretary until 2019, said: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”

Why Texas' energy grid is unable to handle the winter storms

For the Fagan Family Farms, a small independent organic produce farm in Kyle, Texas, lost produce from the cold snap was bad enough, but the power outage was …

More than 4 million Texans have lost power after a weekend storm crippled the state’s energy infrastructure.

The storm, which Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide disaster Friday, has led to at least 25 deaths, most of them in Texas, a state whose energy infrastructure was not built for weather of this magnitude. At least two are dead in a household that tried to warm up by running their car in their garage, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The crisis has made the state's energy grid the focus of fresh scrutiny, primarily due to its independence from the rest of the U.S. Critics say that allowed its infrastructure to shirk federal regulations that require cold-weather capabilities.

“This has been an extraordinary event for Texas,” said Bill Magness, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees about 90 percent of Texas’ energy production and has ordered rolling outages across the state.

“This one went from top to bottom and all the way across, with very cold temperatures, freezing rain, snow like we haven’t seen in decades,” he said in a phone interview. “We knew coming in, it would place extraordinary demands on the electric system.”

NC_txpowerdemand0216_1920x1080.jpg

CenterPoint Energy, which serves the Houston area, announced Tuesday that its directed outages, currently affecting 1.27 million people, “could last several more days.” Austin Energy, the community-owned electric utility for the state's capital, said Tuesday evening that ERCOT had ordered more outages, and that "it could be days before all customers have power."

Texas has been battered with single-digit temperatures, snow and sleet since Thursday, with more expected. The Dallas area saw temperatures below zero Tuesday, the coldest recorded temperature since 1949, with additional precipitation expected Wednesday.

Historically, Texas’ days of high energy demands are always in the summer, Magness said. “We were seeing demand forecasts that were close to a summer peak,” he said. The state’s two largest sources of energy, natural gas and nonhydroelectric renewables, such as wind turbines and solar power, were all severely hampered by the winter storm.

Conservative critics blamed the power outages on a failure of green energy, but that doesn't explain the problem. Wind and solar generate about only 21 percent of the state's electrical power. Instead, natural gas, which powers half the state's electrical generation — by far the largest source — was in use by home furnaces, and some power plants couldn't get enough.

“In the winter, it’s harder to get natural gas supplies, because they’re much more in demand for home heating and uses like that,” he said. Severe wind and snow have interfered with some natural gas equipment and frozen wind turbines, and the overcast weather has drastically slowed solar panel production, he said.

The problems are exacerbated because Texas, the largest energy producer and consumer in the United States, is the only state to use its own power grid. That frees it from federal regulations, including ones that could have required it to be better prepared for a freak cold snap, said Peter Fox-Penner, the founder of Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy.

“Texas’ deregulatory philosophy has caused them to put much less stringent rules on generators and system operators to be prepared for cold weather than other systems, where extreme cold is more common,” he said in an interview.

“They believed that this kind of ‘perfect storm’ was so unlikely that they didn’t need to require the system to prepare for it,” Fox-Penner said.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which despite its name regulates the oil and natural gas industry in the state but not any railroads, said that the weather had stopped fossil fuel production in some parts of the state.

"Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, have reported experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production," the Commission announced Monday.

The one-two punch of the storm and sudden power outages have caused wide-reaching damage across the state.

For the Fagan Family Farms, a small independent organic produce farm in Kyle, Texas, lost produce from the cold snap was bad enough, but the power outage was devastating. They had about ,000 worth of lettuce growing in the electrically heated growhouse, owner Shawn Fagan said — about a fifth of his annual business — and that's now all lost.

"I had the next generation growing in the growhouse,” he said by phone. “Not only do I not have anything in the field, I don't have anything to put in the field now.”

Why Is Texas Without Power? All Your Questions About The ...

The Texas storm has left roughly 4 million people without power, due in part to freezing temperatures and an isolated power grid.

A brutal winter storm has left roughly 4 million Texans without heat and water due to sweeping power outages across the state. Roads are iced over, phone lines are down, and heat is at a premium. On Friday, Feb. 12, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the Texas storm a disaster, as it had knocked out much of the state's famously independent power grid. According to the Texas Tribune, one family used hanging artwork as substitute firewood. It begs the question: How did it come to this?

What’s Unusual About This Texas Storm?

The cold front, which reached the southern U.S. late last week, has brought some of the state's lowest recorded temperatures in 30 years. On Feb. 16, Dallas' temperature dropped to minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit, its lowest since 1949. According to The Guardian, some scientists think a heating Arctic is to blame, as it has disrupted global weather patterns.

How Has The Texas Storm Affected Power Outages?

Many homes aren't properly insulated for severe cold. As people cranked up their heat, it caused huge pressure on the power grid. The system was swamped with demand, plants failed to produce enough energy, and blackouts followed. As of Feb. 17, at least 3 million Texans remain without power, and 21 people have died from issues related to the weather. (In total, outages have affected around 4 million residents.) The Houston Chronicle reports that around 34,000 megawatts, a third of Texas' total potential power, has been "knocked offline."

The state's sole energy operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), is attempting to shift outages from people who've had power to those without.

What's Up With Texas' Power Grid?

Texas operates an independent power grid, overseen by just one agency, ERCOT. It's been a major source of pride for Texans because it's not connected to other state power lines and can sidestep federal regulations. But according to Reuters, because of how isolated the system is, ERCOT unfortunately can't ask for additional electricity from other states now.

The problems in the Lone Star State are multifold: Demand has increased. Power plants across Texas have been hobbled by the weather, including a broken reactor at one of the state's two nuclear plants. And because the state typically experiences peak energy demands over the summer, some plants may be down for maintenance.

Roughly 50% of the state's power comes from natural gas, with about 21% from wind and solar energy. According to the Washington Post, the energy cost of natural gas plants knocked out by the weather outnumbered the losses of wind turbines by a factor of five.

What Are Energy Experts Saying?

Varun Rai, the director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, spoke with USA Today. "No matter which way you cut it, this is a massive failure for a grid and a state that holds up energy and electricity as a shining example," he said.

How Long Will The Cold Front In Texas Last?

Texas will face more wintry weather this week, lasting until at least Feb. 18. Warmer temperatures around 60 degrees are expected this weekend. But until then, according to the Texas Tribune, there's no timeline on when the state might have its power restored.

Why Texas' energy grid is unable to handle the winter …

February 16, 2021, 2:49 PM · 4 min read. More than 4 million Texans have lost power after a weekend storm crippled the state’s energy infrastructure. The storm, which Gov. Greg Abbott declared a...

More than 4 million Texans have lost power after a weekend storm crippled the state’s energy infrastructure.

The storm, which Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide disaster Friday, has led to at least 25 deaths, most of them in Texas, a state whose energy infrastructure was not built for weather of this magnitude. At least two are dead in a household that tried to warm up by running their car in their garage, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The crisis has made the state's energy grid the focus of fresh scrutiny, primarily due to its independence from the rest of the U.S. Critics say that allowed its infrastructure to shirk federal regulations that require cold-weather capabilities.

“This has been an extraordinary event for Texas,” said Bill Magness, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees about 90 percent of Texas’ energy production and has ordered rolling outages across the state.

“This one went from top to bottom and all the way across, with very cold temperatures, freezing rain, snow like we haven’t seen in decades,” he said in a phone interview. “We knew coming in, it would place extraordinary demands on the electric system.”

CenterPoint Energy, which serves the Houston area, announced Tuesday that its directed outages, currently affecting 1.27 million people, “could last several more days.” Austin Energy, the community-owned electric utility for the state's capital, said Tuesday evening that ERCOT had ordered more outages, and that "it could be days before all customers have power."

Texas has been battered with single-digit temperatures, snow and sleet since Thursday, with more expected. The Dallas area saw temperatures below zero Tuesday, the coldest recorded temperature since 1949, with additional precipitation expected Wednesday.

Historically, Texas’ days of high energy demands are always in the summer, Magness said. “We were seeing demand forecasts that were close to a summer peak,” he said. The state’s two largest sources of energy, natural gas and nonhydroelectric renewables, such as wind turbines and solar power, were all severely hampered by the winter storm.

Conservative critics blamed the power outages on a failure of green energy, but that doesn't explain the problem. Wind and solar generate about only 21 percent of the state's electrical power. Instead, natural gas, which powers half the state's electrical generation — by far the largest source — was in use by home furnaces, and some power plants couldn't get enough.

“In the winter, it’s harder to get natural gas supplies, because they’re much more in demand for home heating and uses like that,” he said. Severe wind and snow have interfered with some natural gas equipment and frozen wind turbines, and the overcast weather has drastically slowed solar panel production, he said.

The problems are exacerbated because Texas, the largest energy producer and consumer in the United States, is the only state to use its own power grid. That frees it from federal regulations, including ones that could have required it to be better prepared for a freak cold snap, said Peter Fox-Penner, the founder of Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy.

“Texas’ deregulatory philosophy has caused them to put much less stringent rules on generators and system operators to be prepared for cold weather than other systems, where extreme cold is more common,” he said in an interview.

“They believed that this kind of ‘perfect storm’ was so unlikely that they didn’t need to require the system to prepare for it,” Fox-Penner said.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which despite its name regulates the oil and natural gas industry in the state but not any railroads, said that the weather had stopped fossil fuel production in some parts of the state.

"Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, have reported experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production," the Commission announced Monday.

The one-two punch of the storm and sudden power outages have caused wide-reaching damage across the state.

For the Fagan Family Farms, a small independent organic produce farm in Kyle, Texas, lost produce from the cold snap was bad enough, but the power outage was devastating. They had about ,000 worth of lettuce growing in the electrically heated growhouse, owner Shawn Fagan said — about a fifth of his annual business — and that's now all lost.

"I had the next generation growing in the growhouse,” he said by phone. “Not only do I not have anything in the field, I don't have anything to put in the field now.”

Texas power outage: Why natural gas went down during the ...

16-02-2021 · It wasn’t ready for the extreme cold. Texas largely relies on natural gas — especially during times of high demand — to power the state. Experts say natural gas infrastructure, from pumping ...

16-02-2021

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Failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to extreme temperatures are the most significant cause of the power crisis that has left millions of Texans without heat and electricity during the winter storm sweeping the U.S.

From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all sources of power generation have faced difficulties during the winter storm. But Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

Officials for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of Texas’ grid, said the primary cause of the outages Tuesday appeared to be the state’s natural gas providers. Many are not designed to withstand such low temperatures on equipment or during production.

By some estimates, nearly half of the state’s natural gas production has screeched to a halt due to the extremely low temperatures, while freezing components at natural gas-fired power plants have forced some operators to shut down.

“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. While he said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis at least one nuclear power plant has partially shut down, most notably the natural gas industry is producing significantly less power than normal.

“Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Webber said.

More than half of ERCOT’s winter generating capacity, largely powered by natural gas, was offline due to the storm, an estimated 45 gigawatts, according to Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT.

The outages during this storm far exceeded what ERCOT had predicted in November for an extreme winter event. The forecast for peak demand was 67 gigawatts; peak usage during the storm was more than 69 gigawatts Sunday.

It’s estimated that about 80% of the grid’s capacity, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power. Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.

Woodfin said Tuesday that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation, mostly wind generation, are offline and that 30 gigawatts of thermal sources, which include gas, coal and nuclear energy, are offline.

“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Woodfin said during a Tuesday call with reporters.

Production of natural gas in the state has plunged, making it difficult for power plants to get the fuel necessary to run the plants. Natural gas power plants usually don’t have very much fuel storage on site, experts said. Instead, the plants rely on the constant flow of natural gas from pipelines that run across the state from areas like the Permian Basin in West Texas to major demand centers like Houston and Dallas.

In early February, Texas operators were producing about 24 billion cubic feet per day, according to an estimate by S&P Global Platts. But on Monday, Texas production plummeted to a fraction of that: Operators in the state produced somewhere between 12 billion and 17 billion cubic feet per day.

The systems that get gas from the earth aren’t properly built for cold weather. Operators in West Texas’ Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil fields in the world, are particularly struggling to bring natural gas to the surface, analysts said, as cold weather and snow close wells or cause power outages that prevent pumping the fossil fuels from the ground.

“Gathering lines freeze, and the wells get so cold that they can’t produce,” said Parker Fawcett, a natural gas analyst for S&P Global Platts. “And pumps use electricity, so they’re not even able to lift that gas and liquid, because there’s no power to produce.”

Texas does not have as much storage capacity as other states, experts said, because the resource-laden state can easily pull it from the ground when it’s needed — usually.

Of the storage that the state does have, the resources are somewhat difficult to get to. Luke Jackson, another natural gas analyst for S&P Global Platts, said that physically withdrawing stored natural gas is slower than the immediate, ready supply of lines from production and is insufficient to make up for the dramatic declines in production.

Some power plants were already offline before the crisis began, adding to the problems, experts said. ERCOT anticipated 4 gigawatts of maintenance outages during the winter. Power plants in Texas usually do maintenance and updates to their plants during the typically mild winter months in preparation for the extreme electricity and power demand during the summer. That, too, is straining the grid’s supply.

Another winter problem: heating homes and hospitals by burning natural gas.

“In the summer, you don’t have as much direct burning of natural gas,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, pointing out that during peak usage in the summer months, the demand is all for electricity.

The last time the state experienced a major freeze like this was a decade ago, in 2011. At that time, too, natural gas generation experienced difficulties — had ERCOT not reduced load through the rolling blackouts implemented during that storm, it would have resulted in widespread blackouts throughout the entire region, a federal report on the storm warned.

It is possible to “winterize” natural gas power plants, natural gas production and wind turbines, experts said, which prevents such major interruptions in other states with more regular extreme winter weather. But even after upgrades were made after the 2011 winter storm, many Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent these sorts of disruptions happening to the equipment, experts said.

ERCOT directors also said that the storm this week took a turn in the early morning hours of Monday, when extremely low temperatures forced many more generators offline than ERCOT had anticipated.

“It appeared that the winterization we were doing was working, but this weather was more extreme than [past storms],” Woodfin said. “The loss of generation during the morning of Monday, after midnight, was really the part that made this a more extreme event than we had planned.”

Upgrading equipment to withstand extremely low temperatures and other changes, such as providing incentives for customers to conserve power or upgrade to smart appliances, could help avoid disasters like this one, said Le Xie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M University and assistant director of energy digitization at A&M’s Energy Institute.

“We used to not worry too much about such extreme cold weather in places like Texas, but we probably need to get ready for more in the future,” Xie said. With climate change, he said, “We’re going to have more extreme weather conditions throughout the country.”

Jolie McCullough contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Rice University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas Power Outages Map

Customers Out. Last Updated. American Electric Power Texas. 1,063,306. 511. 11/29/2021 7:26:56 PM GMT. Austin Energy. 521,471. 5.

Customers Tracked: 12,438,580

Last Updated: 12/18/2021 8:47:12 AM GMT

Ercot Grid Status: Normal

Outage Scale:

0%

10%

30%

60%

100%

Customers Tracked

Customers Out

American Electric Power Texas

1,063,817

63

521,774

34

Bandera Electric Cooperative

38,394

0

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative

115,044

0

Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative

37,083

0

63,894

0

2,563,940

125

Central Texas Electric Cooperative

43,472

0

22,204

0

College Station Utilities

44,989

0

Comanche Electric Cooperative Association

35,856

0

Concho Valley Electric Cooperative

15,987

0

282,135

0

888,276

0

Deaf Smith Electric Cooperative

14,450

0

Denton Municipal Electric

34,851

0

74,595

0

473,798

0

Fannin County Electric Cooperative

11,341

0

Farmers Electric Cooperative

99,954

0

Floresville Electric Light and Power System

21,483

0

0

0

Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative

69,593

0

Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative

99,864

0

Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative

22,925

0

HILCO Electric Cooperative

31,160

0

Houston County Electric Cooperative

22,356

0

23,695

0

Lamb County Electric Cooperative

11,654

0

5,019

0

Lubbock Power & Light System

100,000

2

Lyntegar Electric Cooperative

23,192

0

Magic Valley Electric Cooperative

0

0

Medina Electric Cooperative

39,618

0

35,607

0

Navasota Valley Electric Coop

20,272

0

48,650

0

North Plains Electric Cooperative

7,116

0

Nueces Electric Cooperative

19,723

0

3,828,745

277

Pedernales Electric Cooperative

364,309

293

16,953

8

Rita Blanca Electric Cooperative

8,212

1

Rusk County Electric Cooperative

75,035

0

Sam Houston Electric Cooperative

82,535

1

San Bernard Electric Cooperative

30,890

1

San Patricio Electric Cooperative

11,618

0

0

0

Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative

1,089

0

Southwest Rural Electric Association

3,292

0

Southwest Texas Electric Cooperative

9,808

0

Southwestern Electric Power Co

187,013

4

Swisher Electric Cooperative

7,907

0

Taylor Electric Cooperative

18,642

0

245,000

0

Tri-County Electric Cooperative

0

0

Tri-County Electric Cooperative

317

0

Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative

78,124

0

United Cooperative Services

36,342

0

Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation

51,679

0

Wharton County Electric Cooperative

6,330

0

Wise Electric Cooperative

25,136

0

Wood County Electric Cooperative

38,735

0

263,088

0

Provider Customers
Bailey County Electric Cooperative Association8,846
Bartlett Electric CooperativeUnknown
Big Country Electric CooperativeUnknown
Coleman County Electric Cooperative9,000
Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative40,000
Fayette Electric CooperativeUnknown
Fort Belknap Electric CooperativeUnknown
Greenbelt Electric Cooperative4,969
Hamilton County Electric Cooperative17,359
Harmon Electric Association3,000
J-A-C Electric Cooperative5,900
Jackson Electric Cooperative16,417
Jasper-Newton Electric CooperativeUnknown
Karnes Electric CoopUnknown
Lamar County Electric Cooperative AssociationUnknown
Lea County Electric CooperativeUnknown
Lighthouse Electric CooperativeUnknown
Navarro County Electric CooperativeUnknown
Panola-Harrison Electric CooperativeUnknown
Rio Grande Electric Cooperative13,383
South Plains Electric CooperativeUnknown
Victoria Electric CooperativeUnknown
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Millions of Texans left shivering in arctic cold without power

Millions of Texans left shivering in arctic cold without power. "I was afraid of not making it through the night," said one Texan who lost power for most of Monday as temperatures dropped to ...

As a record winter storm slammed across the country Monday, millions of people in Texas found themselves shivering in the dark.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid for 26 million customers, called for rolling outages to conserve power as arctic weather froze wind turbines, pushed several power plants offline and drove up demand from home heating systems.

Outages affecting more than 2 million people were initially expected to be brief, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, but many Texans reported losing power for hours.

NC_txpowerdemand0216_1920x1080.jpg

"The blackout just kept on going, and as the night progressed, the temperatures just started getting lower," said Esteban Ramirez, 19, a college student from Del Rio, west of San Antonio, on the Mexican border. He huddled with his mother and his grandparents on a sofa to stay warm after they lost power at 2:30 a.m.

At one point, he said, the temperature outside was 6 degrees.

"It was scary," he said. Power was out except for a couple of brief spurts for most of the day. His pipes froze, cutting off running water to the house, and the dim light made it difficult for his grandfather to get his medication, he said.

"It was my first time experiencing something like this," he said. "I was afraid of not making it through the night."

Eithan Colindres wears a winter coat inside after his family's apartment in the Greenspoint area of Houston lost power following an overnight snowfall on Monday.Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle via AP

As lights and heaters went out across the state, some Texans hurried to wrap pipes to prevent them from bursting. Others checked on vulnerable friends and relatives to ensure their safety as temperatures dropped to levels rarely seen in that part of the country.

In the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, Aline McKenzie, 59, a science writer at UT-Southwestern Medical Center, took extra straw to keep her six chickens warm in their coop while she, her wife and their three cats stayed in front of a fireplace.

She brought a camp stove into her house to cook, she said. "My survivalist instincts are paying off," she said.

In Austin, Adria Johnson ate tortilla chips and semi-defrosted ravioli from her freezer after she lost power — and all ability to heat food — at 2 a.m.

By late afternoon, as she curled under three blankets in her apartment with her chihuahua, Bluebell, the power still hadn't come back on.

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"It is terribly cold," she said, adding that icy roads made it dangerous to take shelter with friends. "I thought I could tough it out, but it's really, really cold."

Johnson was watching news reports that warned that her power wasn't likely to return until Tuesday and getting angry that the state's energy providers weren't more prepared.

"After this is over, I expect a reckoning about why we weren't able to anticipate this would happen," she said. "Every summer, we deal with multiple days of 100-plus temps in a row. Who would have guessed we couldn't handle a couple days of freezing temperatures?"

Why the power is out in Texas ... and why other states are ...

17-02-2021 · Why the power is out in Texas … and why other states are vulnerable too The U.S. electric grid is uniquely susceptible to power outages, a problem expected to get worse with climate change. by Bob Henson February 17, 2021 May 19, 2021. Share this: Steam fog extends across Lake Thunderbird in Norman, Oklahoma, on the morning of February 16, 2021. Just to the north, Oklahoma City dipped to …

17-02-2021

It wasn’t a torrid heat wave or a Category 5 hurricane that brought the Texas electrical grid to its knees on February 15. Instead, it was the most widespread and intense cold and snow in decades.

The frigid onslaught triggered a cascade of events that left millions of Texans shivering in the darkness of unheated, unlit homes. Temperatures sank well below freezing all the way to the Texas coast, putting Houston below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly 48 hours and leaving countless records broken on the icy plains.

All-time lows were set in Tyler (-5°F) and Longview (-6°F), and a bone-chilling -20°F was reported in the Texas Panhandle.

Frozen wind turbines played only small role in Texas outages

Many – including some prominent climate change contrarians – were quick to pin the “electric emergency” on the massive turbines that make Texas the leading U.S. state for wind energy. While the deep freeze did knock some turbines offline, practically every mode of energy supply was hobbled by the intense cold, snow, and ice.

The main cause of the massive disruption, by far, were the frozen components leading to the outage of thermal plants that heat water and convert the steam to electricity. The vast bulk of those thermal plants are powered by natural gas. In addition, the South Texas Nuclear Plant was thrown out of service Monday as a result of frozen pipes, which cut even further into the Houston area’s electricity supply.

Also feeding the crisis were several factors unique to Texas. Most of the Lone Star State is on a power grid that’s separate from the western and eastern U.S. grids, a decades-old bid to avoid interstate regulation but one that reduces the Texas grid’s flexibility. The state’s deregulated, just-in-time energy marketplace is also a factor, as it leans on production versus storage – a risk when natural gas lines freeze up – and it allows for massive price spikes during weather outages.

The three main components of the North American power grid are the Western and Eastern Interconnections and the ERCOT Interconnection, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and encompassing most of the state. (Image credit: ERCOT)

Investigations after similar but less-extensive Texas freeze disasters in 1989 and 2011 pinned much of the blame on equipment that was insufficiently protected against extreme cold, a threat that’s infrequent in Texas but notoriously brutal when it does arrive. “Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011,” according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission.

“I think the Texas freeze will become the new poster child for compound weather and energy disasters,” said atmospheric scientist Daniel Cohan of Rice University, who’s working on a book about energy and climate change. “The challenges faced this week will likely be studied for years to come, and they show how tough it is to achieve resilience in a changing climate during an energy transition.”

Overall, of course, the temperature trend points to more warming. In Texas and in most other U.S. locations, the coldest winter temperatures have been steadily rising, according to data compiled by the nonprofit science and communications group Climate Central. Yet a warming climate doesn’t preclude the occasional extreme wintry blast.

It’s also possible, though not universally accepted, that depleted sea ice and amplified Arctic warming are exacerbating at least some mid-latitude cold episodes, a topic of lively, ongoing research debate.

U.S. electric grid is uniquely vulnerable: This ‘doesn’t happen everywhere’

The week’s U.S. power woes extended well beyond Texas, the result of an unusually prolonged and widespread bout of frigid air and frozen precipitation. According to poweroutage.us, some 175,000 customers were without power in Oregon on the evening of February 16. They were joined by more than 200,000 customers in Kentucky and West Virginia, and 3.2 million customers still powerless in Texas.

More trouble is looming in the forecast, with fresh winter-weather watches and warnings in place from Austin to Boston. All told, this sequence of mid-February storms could end up interrupting power for well over 10 million Americans.

To put it bluntly, this kind of situation doesn’t happen everywhere. In fact, it happens more often in the U.S. than in any other developed country, according to the University of Minnesota’s Massoud Amin, a founding expert in smart-grid technology. Amin has found that utility customers lose power for an average of 4 minutes annually in Japan, compared to 92 minutes per year in the Upper Midwest.

“We are behind all other G7 nations in our infrastructure, including the power grid,” Amin said.

One clear factor is America’s outsized crop of extreme weather. Another is the vast number of weather-vulnerable U.S. power lines that lie overhead, especially in older eastern cities. Nations such as Germany and the Netherlands prioritize burying power lines, a process that’s costly but that helps reduce the havoc resulting from extreme weather.

Between 2010 and 2019, the U.S. had an increase of 67% in major weather-related power outages (those affecting at least 50,000 customers) as compared to 2000-2009, as tracked by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and analyzed by Climate Central. These outages cost an average of to billion per year, with the indirect costs much higher.

For 2020, DOE reported 118 major outages, the second-largest annual total this century. That ranks behind only 2011, a year with record tornado damage.

What’s more, the aging U.S. grid is being hit hard by compound weather disasters, those occurring near each other in time or space – or both. From the final week of October 2020 into early November, three far-flung areas experienced nine major outages, some lasting more than a week. The culprit was a strange juxtaposition of weather disasters that included an exceptionally early and destructive ice storm and a very late-season hurricane landfall.

  • Wildfires in California, 10/25-10/27 (506,000 customers)
  • Ice storm in Oklahoma, 10/27-11/7 (682,000 customers)
  • Hurricane Zeta in and near Louisiana, 10/28-11/2 (1,099,000 customers)

How climate change is stressing the grid

Compound disasters are a topic of growing interest among researchers. They point out that the total impact of compound events can be much greater than the sum of their parts. For example, the nation’s limited supply of utility repair crews can get stretched beyond its ability to respond.

Climate change is already exacerbating some potential threats to the power grid: for instance, the ramped-up intensity of heat waves and the increased frequency of sprawling “stuck” weather patterns in summertime.

Colin Raymond of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is lead author on an essay published last summer in Nature Climate Change that delves into understanding and managing compound and connected weather and climate disasters. Raymond draws a distinction between compound weather and climate events – often linked to a single, persistent large-scale weather pattern – and connected events, which occur when compound events are “amplified by societal networks.” According to Raymond, the latter “leads to impacts that are larger or have a different spatiotemporal pattern than they would otherwise.”

The coast-to-coast power outages of February 2021 are one example. In their Nature Climate Change essay, Raymond and colleagues highlight another: the sequential assault from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria within a month’s time in the summer of 2017.

By the time Maria struck Puerto Rico, the study noted, U.S. emergency response systems had been stretched thin by Hurricane Harvey striking Texas the previous month and Hurricane Irma hitting Florida the previous week. On top of Puerto Rico’s pre-existing vulnerabilities – including under-maintained infrastructure, limited budgets, an aging population, and lack of statehood benefits – relief supplies pre-negotiated by FEMA had been drained by Harvey and Irma. The agency rushed into new arrangements that were plagued with problems, including steep markups.

Damaged power lines were strewn across Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017, when a military convoy including Governor Ricardo Rosselló visited the cities of Loiza and Canóvanas to survey destruction left by Hurricane Maria. (Image credit: Puerto Rico National Guard, via Flickr)

Scientists are exploring an array of new tools to help examine how compound and connected events are intertwined and how policymakers can unravel the knots. According to Raymond and colleagues, “impacts can serve as a winnowing device to identify what combinations of extreme events matter.” Emerging computational and communication technologies could also make a big difference, especially with the help of high-quality, fine-grained impacts data.

The most promising analog, according to Raymond and colleagues, may be in the spectacular progress of aviation safety. They call it a realm where “physical science, engineering, and social sciences have come together to successfully mitigate – despite greatly increasing system complexity – the frequency of disastrous failures.”

How to keep the juice flowing

As for the U.S. power grid, there’s no sign that weather and climate will be giving it a break anytime soon. With La Niña still in place, extended climate outlooks point to the potential for a drought-ridden spring across the western United States, perhaps extending into summer. In addition, tornadoes and hail tend to be more frequent in the southern Great Plains during La Niña springs, and La Niña often fosters an enhanced Atlantic hurricane season.

Texas’ electricity calamity of 2021 is bound to trigger debate on how to keep the evolving U.S. grid robust during various types of disasters, especially as the nation becomes more reliant on electricity that will increasingly come from renewable sources. De-icing systems and cold-weather lubricants are used in many wind turbines in northern climates. Over time, grid-scale battery storage for wind and solar energy could play a major role.

No matter how the sources and storage evolve, transmission and grid coordination are two Achilles’ heels that’ll have to be dealt with. Several companies are now using artificial intelligence to anticipate and track grid outages. In addition, decentralized microgrids could help distinct locations such as hospitals or college campuses keep the power going even during grid outages.

“We need a smarter, stronger, more secure grid,” said Amin, who chaired the board of the Texas Reliability Entity (the regional council for ensuring bulk power access) for seven years. “My hat is off to grid operators and utilities in Texas and elsewhere who are trying to keep up a system that was never designed to handle such contingencies. We need to help them make it stronger and more resilient.”

Collaboration among weather, climate, and energy researchers could also help ensure the grid is equipped to handle the mix of weather extremes that the evolving climate will be flinging our way.

“No infrastructural relic may be as vulnerable as the U.S. electric grid,” environmental scientist Urooj Raja of the University of Colorado Boulder wrote in a 2020 essay for The Hill. “As climate change escalates and disrupts weather patterns, our country must update the grid, immediately, or risk losing not only power, but lives.”

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Why Is Texas Experiencing Power Outages?

Print. Text. Texas’ electric grid operator said Thursday morning that it was able to restore power to a significant number of homes overnight, although pockets of the state remain blacked out ...

Texas’ electric grid operator said Thursday morning that it was able to restore power to a significant number of homes overnight, although pockets of the state remain blacked out for the fourth day amid freezing temperatures.

Some power plants were restarted overnight, allowing electricity to more homes to be restored. Still, Texas’ problems weren’t over. Local natural gas companies warned of low supplies and asked for conservation, and a number of large and small water systems have either lost pressure or issued boil-water notices.

“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on.,” said Dan Woodfin, head of operations for the state’s power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The emergency situation began in the early morning hours of Monday when several power plants tripped offline in rapid succession. The deep freeze continued into Wednesday in the northern part of the state, making it difficult for officials to restore power across the state.

An unusual Arctic blast spread across Texas on Monday and Tuesday from the tip of the Panhandle all the way to the Rio Grande Valley. Residents of swaths of the state experienced two straight days of single-digit temperatures, and many remained below freezing on Thursday.

Millions of Americans entered a third day without power as more snow and freezing rain moves toward the East Coast, prolonging icy conditions in some areas hit earlier this week. Photo: Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg News

The widespread cold weather led to record demand for electricity. Mr. Woodfin said a tremendous number of power plants shut down as operating became unsafe in the cold conditions. A few hours later, he said, a lack of natural gas hobbled more power plants.

As many as four million homes in Texas were blacked out for stretches that lasted days in some cases. By Thursday morning, most homes were energized.

CenterPoint Energy Inc., which serves the Houston area, reported 31,000 homes were without power, down from 1.4 million customers a day earlier.

But days without power have triggered other problems. “Even as the lights come back on, we’re facing a food and water crisis in Harris County, Texas,” tweeted Lina Hidalgo, the elected chief executive of the country, which includes Houston and has 4.7 million residents.

Why did authorities shut off power?

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid in the state, was forced to order blackouts beginning Monday and extending into Thursday to prevent damage to the electricity system. Better to partially shut down the grid with rolling blackouts than for the grid to cease functioning altogether, it said.

In the early hours of Monday morning, demand for electricity surged higher than available supply. The grid operator, known as Ercot, was forced to shed demand by shutting off certain circuits to maintain balance in the overall system.

The cold weather and lack of natural gas supply made it difficult to restart enough power plants to meet extraordinarily high electricity demand.

Why does Texas operate its own power grid?

Texas operates its own power grid, making it the only one that isn’t under federal jurisdiction. Texas likes it that way and has taken sometimes dramatic steps to ensure its grid is overseen in Austin, not Washington.

More than 120 million Americans are under some sort of winter advisory as states brace for a major winter storm that is forcing flight cancellations, power outages and Covid-19 vaccination sites to close. Photo: Eric Gay/Associated Press

Ercot officials said on Thursday morning that it was restoring power wherever possible. Some areas remained blacked out because of downed wires and other damage to the transmission system. “Customers should be seeing the light and the heat coming on,” said Bill Magness, the chief executive of Ercot.

After three straight days of widespread blackouts, confidence in Ercot and state oversight of its electrical system was at a low ebb. Clay Jenkins, the top official in Dallas County, tweeted at Gov. Greg Abbott that he needed to “apologize to Texans who lost power and immediately order your team…to pass weatherization requirements like Oklahoma and the other states.”

Many gas, coal and nuclear power plants as well as wind turbines aren’t weatherized to withstand a long, hard freeze and were unable to work this week.

How many people have been affected?

At its peak, about 4 million homes had lost power. Ercot didn’t provide an updated figure on Thursday morning. Oncor, which provides power to North Texas, reported 178,000 customers without power on Thursday morning.

At the peak, about 45 gigawatts of power were offline due to the cold. Two-thirds of this generation was from gas- and coal-burning power plants and one nuclear power plant. The other third came from wind turbines that iced up and were taken out of service.

Local utilities kept power on to neighborhoods with hospitals, fire stations and water-treatment plants. Most other areas were blacked out. There was so little extra power that utilities couldn’t rotate the blackouts among neighborhoods that didn’t have critical infrastructure, leaving some homes without power for more than 24 hours.

Has this happened before?

Yes, Texas experienced winter rolling blackouts in February 2011 and January 2014, although these lasted for a much shorter amount of time. In those emergencies, several coal and natural gas units tripped offline due to extreme cold conditions. Plants reported frozen equipment and natural-gas restrictions, according to a report on the 2014 incident.

Ercot’s Mr. Woodfin said this week’s ongoing “weather event is really unprecedented.” He added that Texas hadn’t seen this combination of Arctic temperatures and wind chills since the 1940s.

What types of electricity are generated in Texas?

Natural-gas-fired power plants generated 40% of Texas’s electricity in 2020, according to Ercot, the largest single source. Wind turbines were second at 23%, followed by coal at 18% and nuclear at 11%.

In recent years, coal has been declining on the Texas grid, and renewable sources such as wind and solar have been increasing.

Write to Russell Gold at [email protected]

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Why Texas power outages didn't affect some parts of the ...

18-02-2021 · Texas’ power grid, which operates as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, covers 90% of the state. The other 10% includes El Paso, the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas.

18-02-2021

While millions of Texans were left in the dark this week after an arctic blast pummeled the state, not every part of Texas experienced major electricity issues.

Texas has an unusual power setup. Unlike the other states in the union, which are mostly interconnected, Texas has its own power grid. That grid, which operates as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, covers 90% of the state. The other 10% includes El Paso, the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas.

These areas, for various reasons, including proximity, instead get their electricity from other grid providers. For example, the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas.

The main culprit for the power outages in ERCOT’s coverage area was failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to the extreme temperatures. From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all power sources faced difficulties during the winter storm. Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

Energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune this week that limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis. They said Texas’ decisions not to require equipment upgrades to withstand extreme winter temperatures and to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left the power system unprepared for this week’s outages.

But the weather didn’t plunge other parts of the state into darkness. Their grids were equipped to withstand those frigid temperatures.

Take El Paso, for instance. El Paso’s power was originally all local, but it started looking for other resources in the 1960s as the population grew, including turning to a New Mexico power plant. Then in the late 1970s, El Paso Electric became part owner of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.

“You look where El Paso is, and people not from this area don’t understand. I can get from Los Angeles faster than I can get to Houston,” said Steven T. Buraczyk, senior vice president of operations for El Paso Electric. “Economically it just made more sense for us to be part of the Western grid because of where we’re located.”

El Paso also has access to the Montana Power Station, built on the east side of town after the hard freeze in 2011 that left the city without power and water. Buraczyk said officials made several critical decisions after that storm to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, including having its equipment being able to withstand low temperatures as low as negative 10 degrees.

“We went back and did some better insulation and weatherization to withstand colder temperatures,” said Buraczyk. “But the biggest thing, in my mind, is we built another power plant. It’s difficult to retrofit something that is 50 or 60 years old. And have as good results as when you’re just building it.”

Earlier this week, El Paso Electric spokesperson Eddie Gutierrez told El Paso TV station KTSM that “only 875 customers were impacted by an outage of less than five minutes” because they were better prepared this time around.

The Panhandle also escaped major damage this week. Residents there have dealt with short, rolling blackouts but nothing like the dayslong outages in the other parts of the state, reports Amarillo TV station KAMR. Most of the Texas Panhandle and South Plains get their power from Xcel Energy, serviced by the Southwest Power Pool. That power grid spans 14 states, which allows them to share power when there’s a need. The region SPP serves also experienced harsh weather conditions this week, which is why the Panhandle experience some power outages.

Xcel Energy spokesperson Wes Reeves told KAMR the company has spent time and effort weatherizing its power plants in the last decade.

The Beaumont area is serviced by Entergy, which also beefed up its weatherization efforts before the storm. That allowed them to have fewer long-term outages compared with other parts of the state, Houston’s KHOU-TV reports.

Beaumont residents still experienced rolling outages after its power grid, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, became overwhelmed by the all-time high demand for electricity. At one point this week, about 33,000 residents experienced these outages. On Thursday, Entergy said it hoped to restore power to its customers by the end of the day.

Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. and Entergy have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Why the Deep Freeze Caused Texas to Lose Power ...

Why the Deep Freeze Caused Texas to Lose Power. Issues with natural gas supplies and the grid’s isolation both factored in to the massive outages

On Sunday night, as a burst of Arctic air swept southward across the Great Plains, power plants in Texas started flicking offline.

Wind generation fell 32% between 9 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday local time, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. Coal dropped 13%. And natural gas generation, the cornerstone of the Texas grid, plummeted 25% over that six-hour period.

By the time the sun rose over Texas around 7 a.m., energy demand on the state’s primary electric grid had surged to about 71 gigawatts. Texas power plants were only able to muster up roughly 51 GW of electricity, leaving millions without power and shivering in the cold.

It was a different story farther north. Temperatures were even colder in parts of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a 14-state electricity system stretching from North Texas to the Canadian border. But generation from coal and gas plants there held steady and even increased. Wind output, meanwhile, followed a normal pattern of declining throughout the day before picking up again later Monday. It was a similar situation in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), a 15-state system going from Louisiana to the Canadian province of Manitoba.

Neither MISO nor SPP was able to completely avoid the grips of the cold. Both were forced to sever electricity to customers in a bid to stabilize their grids. Yet those outages were limited in duration and scope compared with what unfolded in Texas.

The differences point to some of the key failures that have forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s primary grid operator, to enforce sustained blackouts since Monday. It also highlights the challenge facing the Biden administration and climate activists as they seek to decarbonize America’s collection of electric grids.

ERCOT’s challenges are several. For one, it is more reliant on gas for electricity generation than its neighbors, which still boast sizable coal fleets.

That matters for two reasons. Gas also serves heating needs, meaning demand for the fuel surges during a cold snap. Coal faces no such competition. It also leaves the state vulnerable to disruptions in gas supplies. Many gas wells also produce water and distillates, which can freeze during cold spells.

“One of the big lessons here is gas is treated as a firm resource, but it is not because it relies on just-in-time delivery,” said Alex Gilbert, a fellow who studies energy systems at the Colorado School of Mines’ Payne Institute for Public Policy. “For me, looking at SPP and MISO south, there are other planning reasons involved, but they have a more diversified mix and that is definitely helping them.”

That’s not an endorsement of coal. Most coal plants in the United States are older and utilities are investing less in them now, two factors that increase the probability of forced outages during extreme weather events. Instead, Gilbert argued the United States needs to take a holistic approach to energy planning that includes other factors, such as energy efficiency and development of clean technologies to complement wind and solar.

Another item on that list is planning for extreme weather events, an area where ERCOT has fallen short.

In its most recent winter reliability assessment, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. predicted winter demand in ERCOT would peak around 67 GW in an extreme weather event. U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that ERCOT demand reached a forecast peak of 75 GW on Tuesday morning.

At the same time, the number of plant outages for ERCOT’s grid is far greater than expected. The grid operator forecast nearly 14 GW of plant outages during an extreme winter weather event. Last night, ERCOT officials said some 43 GW has been forced offline. That sum includes plants that were already offline for scheduled maintenance.

The sheer number of plant outages points to the largest difference between ERCOT and its counterparts. The Texas system was simply not prepared for the cold, despite having experienced freezing temperatures in 2011 that saw gas wellheads lock up and coal plants seize up.

Many power plants in the southern United States are not enclosed inside a building, with boilers and turbines exposed to the elements. This is by design. Leaving key power plant infrastructure outside prevents excessive heat build-up during warmer periods. But it can leave power plants vulnerable to cold weather, as a 2019 NERC report examining a 2018 cold snap in the southeastern U.S. makes clear.

Power planners in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, by contrast, generally enclose their plants because they “expect to have to perform in cold weather conditions,” said Susan Tierney, a former Department of Energy official who now works as a consultant. “That is not the case in Texas, so the unprecedented cold weather over so much of the state made it hard for the equipment to perform.”

Power plant design is important within the context of the political debate about why the ERCOT grid has failed. Republicans have seized on wind turbines icing up as a warning that renewables are endangering the grid.

Democrats have responded by noting that gas and coal account for the majority of plant outages in Texas today. But both wind turbines and fossil fuels regularly perform at cold temperatures in northern climates, where they are designed to withstand winter’s fury.

“Wind and solar were not significant contributors to what happened in Texas. They have planning around these particular events; they know in events like this wind and solar production will be low,” Gilbert said. “That said, looking forward, wind and solar are going to have challenges with winter demand. And that is something we have to come to grips with as we try to decarbonize the electricity system.”

Indeed, Texas’ woes highlight some of the challenges facing American climate hawks. Renewable generation fades during the winter months in much of the U.S. as demand for energy surges. Summer, by contrast, is a relatively easier challenge because solar generation generally matches heat-induced demand spikes.

Solving that conundrum is exacerbated by the fact the country is seeking to make two energy transitions simultaneously, said Emily Grubert, a professor who studies energy systems at the Georgia Institute of Technology. One is a shift from dirtier power plants to cleaner ones. The other is a move to electrify buildings and cars that previously relied on oil and gas.

Expanding energy planning to include areas like building efficiency standards will be critical to help reduce demand and relieve the stress on the gird, Grubert said. Even so, she added, “it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

Why Texas Has Gone Dark

14-02-2021 · Much of Texas is experiencing rolling blackouts, as utilities are unable to keep power flowing. Why are these blackouts happening? My colleague Isaac Orr explains at AmericanExperiment.org.: More ...

14-02-2021

Much of Texas is experiencing rolling blackouts, as utilities are unable to keep power flowing. Why are these blackouts happening? My colleague Isaac Orr explains at AmericanExperiment.org.:

More than 2.5 million people in Texas are currently experiencing rolling blackouts as temperatures remain in the single digits in many parts of the state. The Lone Star state is currently short of electricity because half of the Texas wind fleet (the largest in the nation) is iced over and incapable of generating electricity. Additionally, the natural gas infrastructure Texas has become so reliant upon has also frozen up.

Texas’s experience highlights the perils of becoming overly reliant upon wind, solar and natural gas because these energy sources are not as reliable as coal or nuclear power during extreme weather conditions.

But there is more to the story than that. Texas has what some regard as a free market in energy, but in fact it is distorted by the massive federal subsidies paid by the federal government. These subsidies often cause the price of electricity to go negative; that is, wind farms will actually pay utilities to take electricity off their hands. The resulting market dislocation devastates reliable energy sources:

Federal subsidies for wind pay wind-turbine owners per megawatt-hour for electricity regardless of whether the electricity is needed or not. These subsidies allow wind operators to make money even if electricity prices turn negative. This means some power plant operators need to pay customers money if they continue to supply electricity to the grid when the prices are negative, while wind generators will make money courtesy of our tax dollars.

Isaac’s post includes a map that shows the prevalence of negative pricing across the U.S.

When coal plants close, renewable energy activists often cry, “Seeeeeee, it’s the market!” But the PTC’s market distortions are one of the reasons why these coal plants are no longer available to produce the electricity needed in Texas due to the frozen wind turbines and natural gas infrastructure.

More at the link. Meanwhile, on a lighter note, the Babylon Bee’s take on the Texas blackouts;

People Who Moved To Texas From California Finally Feeling At Home Now That Power Is Out https://t.co/pNfZfwDEhV

— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) February 16, 2021

Epic power fail: Why millions of Texans are still without ...

18-02-2021 · Some 2.2 million Texas customers were still without power Wednesday night, according to outage-tracking website PowerOutage.US. In Houston, the …

18-02-2021

Three days after the Texas power system collapsed, the state’s grid manager has restored little additional power and could provide no estimate on how long millions will remain without electricity and heat.

Unprepared for the persistent, unseasonable cold, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is now at the mercy of power generators — still in the throes of a deep freeze and with repairs needed to damaged equipment — unsure when they will be able to thaw their equipment out.

Pressed at a Wednesday news conference for a timeline to restore electricity flow, Bill Magness, ERCOT’s president and chief executive, said, “That’s what we’re working on. That’s the top priority. That’s what we want to see done as quickly as possible.”

As criticism of ERCOT’s preparation mounted — a similar event a decade ago led to calls for power generators to upgrade their equipment to be prepared for the next such winter storm — Magness said he was focusing first on the task at hand.

“The priority for us now, whatever the future holds, the priority for us now is to get the power back on,” he said. “‘The assessment of how we did I think is something that can be done after we get the power back on.”

ERCOT was able to restore power to an estimated 1.6 million homes Wednesday as moderating temperatures reduced demand. Some 2.2 million Texas customers were still without power Wednesday night, according to outage-tracking website PowerOutage.US.

In Houston, the utility CenterPoint Energy was able to reduce the number of customers without power to fewer than 1 million Wednesday night, down from 1.4 million Wednesday morning.

Bringing back power generation has been slowed by repairs to frozen pipes, broken lines another equipment needed to run the plants, experts said. Natural gas shortages have also affected power generation. Freezing temperatures in Texas shale plays have contributed to a plunge in production of as much as 7 billion cubic feet per day, according to Bloomberg and S&P Global Platts.

Power plants weren’t ready for the blow when it hit just after midnight Monday. About 46,000 megawatts of generation came offline, ERCOT said, more than half of the grid’s 82,000 megawatts of normal capacity.

The state began the week with about 14,000 megawatts of power generation already offline for routine maintenance, said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. The Arctic blast that hit overnight Monday knocked another 32,000 megawatts out of commission.

Of the total generation knocked offline, about 18,000 megawatts was generated by wind, with 28,000 megawatts by thermal sources, predominantly natural gas.

Water plays an important role in natural gas plants, Rhodes said, so if the water freezes they can’t operate.

“It would be like running your car without coolant,” he said. “It would overheat and it would break.”

Repairing infrastructure is not a quick fix, said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston.

“This equipment can’t be switched on rapidly,” Hirs said. “If plants have frozen pipes and broken lines that interrupt the gas, water or turbine flow, those are industrial repairs. This is not something where you can call upstairs and have someone come fix it overnight.”

Hirs said the state should have learned a lesson from blackouts a decade ago, when frigid temperatures also knocked out power generators.

“The 2011 debacle gave everybody in the legislature, the state, the PUC and ERCOT, the road map to fix things and they did not follow it,” said Hirs.

Julie Cohn, an energy historian affiliated with Rice University and the University of Houston, said, however, that the severity of the storm was beyond what planners would have expected.

“We’ve never had a storm like this,” she said. “This weather event is something that’s really outside historical data for ERCOT.”

Sitll, said Rhodes of UT Austin, so many generators falling offline was troubling.

“That’s definitely something we have to fix,” he said. “We can’t allow that to happen. We’ve got to weatherize better.”

ERCOT operates outside of federal regulation because its reach does not extend beyond state lines, and both Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry have been outspoken about keeping federal regulators out of the system.

On Wednesday, Perry suggested that going days without power is a sacrifice Texans should be willing to make if it means keeping federal oversight out of the state’s power grid.

“That is a ridiculous statement,” Hirs said. “No one is going to hold a gun to your head and make you join federal regulation.”

Ultimately, Hirs said, the Texas power grid issue is not political.

“This is not an issue of red or blue,” Hirs said. “This is an issue of smart or stupid.”

How the Texas power grid failed and what could stop it ...

17-02-2021 · While the state scrambles to restore power, questions are arising about why Texas was so ill-equipped, and what can be done to ensure this doesn't happen again.

17-02-2021
Karla Perez and Esperanza Gonzalez warm up by a barbecue grill during power outage caused by the winter storm on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather, power outages and traffic accidents to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation.

Millions in Texas are still in the dark following the deadly winter storm that caused the state's worst blackouts in decades, leaving households without power as temperatures dropped to record lows.

While the state scrambles to restore power, questions are arising about why Texas was so ill-equipped, and what can be done to ensure this doesn't happen again. 

A confluence of factors led to the historic blackouts, and officials are already calling for investigations into the chain of events.

Looking forward, experts say there are a number of steps the state can take to combat future issues, including weatherizing equipment and increasing reserve margins.

"We need to better realize how vulnerable our energy systems are — both electricity and the vulnerability of electricity and natural gas systems together," said Daniel Cohan, associate professor at Rice University. "This is going to take some regrouping and there's not going to be a single step. We're going to need a portfolio of steps."

The storm dumped snow and ice across the Midwest and South, taking power production offline just as consumers turned up their thermostats amid the frigid temperatures.

No power source was immune — coal, natural gas, crude, wind and solar production all dipped. Pipeline freezes impeded the flow of natural gas and crude oil. The outages were concentrated in Texas as the grid was forced to shed load, unable to keep pace with the spike in demand. At one point, more than four million people were without power.

"It was a black swan event from the demand side and supply side, and the freeze-off created this supply issue," said Michael Bradley, managing director at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. He noted that equipment freezing is not a headline event.

However, over the weekend all 254 Texas counties were placed under weather advisory warnings, which is rare. Typically if a cold front hits one area, production moves elsewhere. That wasn't possible this time around, and icy roads meant equipment couldn't be serviced.

Vehicles move on a snow-capped road in Houston, Texas, Feb. 15, 2021.

Of course, power equipment operates in places that are much colder than Texas, so one step that can be taken would be to winterize equipment. The state is used to extreme heat and drought, but its infrastructure simply is not equipped to operate in extreme cold. 

"They have the infrastructure in place that meets the needs 99.9% of the time," said Rebecca Babin, senior equity trader at CIBC Private Wealth. "On these tail events, they're really ill equipped. They're not incentivized to invest in the infrastructure to make those improvements."

Texas has a stand-alone power grid that's deregulated.

The majority of the state's power is controlled by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is known as ERCOT. It's a competitive pricing market, meaning it trades on supply and demand. Companies are trying to bring the cheapest form of energy to the market, which can come at the expense of building out more reliable infrastructure systems.

"Texas has chosen to operate its power grid as an island," noted Rice University's Cohan, which means the state can't import power from other states when it's most needed. He added that the impacts are also felt in the fall and spring, when Texas has an abundance of power that it can't export.

The severity of the storm was underestimated, including by ERCOT.

Ahead of the inclement weather ERCOT estimated how much power it would need under various scenarios, but the reality exceeded even its extreme forecast. "The magnitude of the forecast error was massive," said consulting firm ICF International. 

ERCOT does have a reserve margin — the amount of excess supply needed to meet peak power demand — but since the market is unregulated companies don't want to shoulder the cost. Raising the reserve margin would mean that crises of this magnitude could potentially be avoided down the line. While it would be difficult to force an increase in the reserve margin, incentives could spur adoption.

Matt Breidert, portfolio manager at Ecofin, called the Texas grid a "Wild West" market designed based on short-run prices. Were Texas connected to the broader grid, "it might have a more stable resource portfolio to handle this event."

With utilities scrambling to keep the lights on, power prices are surging across Texas as contractual obligations force companies to buy at any price.

CIBC's Babin noted that Texas' unregulated market is exacerbating the price swings as energy producers are forced to buy megawatts in the open market. 

Some of the heightened cost could end up on Texas consumers' utility bills. Companies such as Griddy — which gives consumers access to wholesale electricity prices — have outlined ways for its users to switch power providers in an effort to shield them from volatile price swings.

"The power price is usually about , , per megawatt hour, and because of extreme events, the price of power hit the ,000 cap. That's very extreme," said Ron Silvestri, senior analyst at Neuberger Berman.

Natural gas prices jumped 3% on Wednesday, after surging more than 7% on Tuesday. For the month, prices are up 26%. While the impact on oil prices has been more muted, West Texas Intermediate crude futures traded around a 13-month high on Wednesday.

Customers wait in line to enter Frontier Fiesta on February 17, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Some have pointed fingers at renewables as causing the blackouts, but in reality the vast majority of the outages stemmed from issues with natural gas production.

That said, solar and wind also went offline as frozen blades made wind turbines inoperable. 

But in the wake of the disaster the role of renewables within Texas' energy mix will likely be reevaluated.

Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.'s Bradley said that he believes there will be a slowdown on the adoption of renewables in favor of more natural gas buildout. While renewables weren't the root cause here, they're an intermittent power source, which means they can't ramp up operations at will. Natural gas and coal, on the other hand, can.

Energy storage is the key to making renewables a more dependable power alternative, and Neuberger Berman's Silvestri said that the Texas blackouts could also lead to faster buildout of storage options.

They have the infrastructure in place that meets the needs 99.9% of the time. On these tail events, they're really ill equipped. They're not incentivized to invest in the infrastructure to make those improvements.

"Grid-level storage adds resiliency when power generation capabilities are mitigated," said analysts at research firm Baird. "Furthermore, both solar and storage provide grid operators with additional functionality such as peak power shedding and/or shifting."

Demand response programs are another way for companies to monitor the grid especially as greater adoption of renewable energy impacts the available supply. Making the grid smarter can help utility companies have an accurate view of the current supply and demand picture, while demand response systems can act as a controlled way to curb usage.

"The central idea is that power consumption can be temporarily curtailed in times of peak demand, but instead of doing it disruptively as is the case with load-shedding, it is done in a controlled manner," noted analysts from Raymond James.

As millions remain without power and with more inclement weather on the way, regulators are calling for investigations into what happened.

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. "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."

Texas isn't the only state to be plagued by power outages in recent memory.

Over the summer California was plagued by blackouts, and while the causes are much different this time around, the instances demonstrate the fragility of the grid. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent, and with more being demanded of the grid — including electric vehicles — the infrastructure is strained.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct that some power grid outside of Texas also are deregulated.

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Texas Blackouts: Why Millions Lost Power in Storm, What ...

18-02-2021 · The irony of blaming wind turbines for the power outages in Texas is that extreme weather events are made worse by climate change, which is fueled by burning coal and natural gas. In …

18-02-2021

Almost half a million Texans are still without power Thursday as arctic weather continues to pummel the state. The blackout, which affected a few million residents at its peak, is among the largest in US history.

"We know millions of people are suffering," Bill Magness, the president of Texas' electric-grid manager, ERCOT, said in a statement Wednesday. "We have no other priority than getting them electricity."

ERCOT said it made "significant progress" Wednesday night, but outages are expected to continue through the week. About 490,000 customers are without power as of Thursday morning, according to an outage tracking site.

Misinformation spread online on Tuesday as some conservative groups and lawmakers falsely blamed the blackouts on frozen wind turbines that quit generating power. In reality, thermal energy sources that went offline, such as natural-gas plants, contributed more to the problem.

But the drop in the energy supply is just part of the reason so many people in Texas lost power this week. Here's what you need to know.

winter storm snow texas
A man walking in a neighborhood without electricity in Pflugerville, Texas.
Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/USA Today Network via Reuters

The simple reason that millions lost power: A gap between supply and demand

A major winter storm that hit Texas over the long weekend caused two important things to happen: Sources of electricity, like natural-gas plants, went offline, and demand for the energy they produce went up as people across the state turned on heaters to stay warm.

That caused a massive shortfall in energy.

The organization that manages most of Texas' grid, known as ERCOT, or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, responded by cutting power to millions of homes in chunks, to limit the time any one household was dark. These so-called rolling blackouts are similar to what happened in California last year, also during extreme weather.

On Thursday morning, 40 gigawatts of electricity were offline in ERCOT's territory, down from 46 gigawatts Wednesday. This is one of the largest shortfalls in energy supply in modern US history, Patrick Milligan, a manager and power expert at the consulting firm ICF, told Insider.

Most of the supply that went offline was coal and natural gas, not wind

About 60% of the energy sources offline in Texas on Wednesday and Thursday were thermal — that is, power plants that run on coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy — while the rest was from solar and wind farms, ERCOT said.

Cold weather is the obvious culprit: All different kinds of power plants in Texas, not just wind turbines, have trouble operating in arctic weather as their instruments freeze. In fact, earlier this week, wind farms were overperforming forecasts, said Rebecca Miller, a research manager at Wood Mackenzie who tracks output across the state.

It can be more difficult to pump natural gas out of the ground or transport it to power plants in freezing conditions. What's more, utilities have prioritized sending natural gas to homes for heating instead of to power plants, Miller said.

A wind farm in TExas
Wind turbines in Loraine, Texas.
Nick Oxford/Reuters

There are less obvious drivers behind the Texas blackouts

The US is made up of three major electric grids, and one of them overlaps almost entirely with Texas.

In other words, Texas essentially has its own grid.

That can exacerbate a situation like this by making it harder for Texas to draw power from other regions that aren't under the same weather-related stress, said Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Georgia Tech who studies large infrastructure.

"The entire grid of Texas is subjected to this emergency condition at once," Grubert said. "That's a lot of pressure to be putting on a grid that doesn't have access to other areas that aren't under those conditions."

But other issues were at play, such as a lack of preparedness — on the sides of both supply and demand.

Homeowners weren't told to do much to conserve energy, Miller said. Meanwhile, power plants weren't properly weatherized.

Take wind turbines: They have no problem operating in much colder states than Texas. Minnesota and Iowa, for example, have large wind farms, but they don't suffer blackouts when temperatures plunge to single digits.

"Wind can operate perfectly in cold weather," Milligan said.

Like natural-gas and coal-fired power plants, wind turbines can be weatherized to withstand tough winter conditions. But weatherization costs money, and turbines in Texas generally aren't equipped for cold weather.

"Why would you have a snowplow in Austin? That kind of same thinking applies to the power plants," Grubert said.

It didn't have to get this bad

This isn't the first time Texas has been hit by an arctic burst. In 2011, around the Super Bowl, cold weather swept through the state, plunging millions of people into darkness.

That's left many people wondering: Why didn't energy producers and regulators do more to prepare for this cold spell?

That summer, a federal report recommended things like weatherization to prevent supply from going offline in the future, the Houston Chronicle reported.

But a lot of that advice wasn't followed, Milligan said, partly because it wasn't enforceable and there was no mechanism in place to pay for it. Weatherization is expensive, he said.

Plus, Texas' energy market is deregulated, and suppliers there try to produce energy as cheaply as possible, Milligan added.

"The generators are not really incentivized to undertake these kinds of [weatherization] investments," Milligan said.

It would have been hard to completely prevent these blackouts, experts told Insider; this kind of weather really is unusual for Texas. But they said the effects would not have been so devastating if companies had done more to prepare.

texas weather
A car driving on snow- and sleet-covered roads in Spring, Texas.
David J. Phillip/AP

More blackouts are coming if we don't do more to prepare

The irony of blaming wind turbines for the power outages in Texas is that extreme weather events are made worse by climate change, which is fueled by burning coal and natural gas. In theory, wind and solar farms offset emissions spewed into the atmosphere, lessening the impact of climate change.

"Can you expect more extremes? Yes," Grubert said. "In terms of what that means for the grid, that's a question that we as a society will have to grapple with."

It's important not only to prevent outages outright but to ensure that we have ways to keep people safe when the grid goes down, she said.

"Even if the energy system had stayed up, there would have been a lot of people in trouble during this event," she said, such as those who may not have access to heat.

The importance of managing demand, such as through measures that make buildings more energy-efficient, also can't be overstated, she said.

Winter storm texas
Power lines in Fort Worth.
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

When power will be restored and what happens next

The outages are likely to continue through the week as a second winter storm brings freezing rain and sleet to the state.

"We are anticipating another cold front this evening which could increase the demand," Dan Woodfin, the senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said in a statement on Wednesday morning. "The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online."

Gov. Greg Abbott has called the blackout event "unacceptable" and said he would add the reform of ERCOT as an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session.

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," Abbott said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also launched a task force to investigate the outages in Texas and elsewhere in the US.

What Went Wrong in Texas?

21-02-2021 · More important, the Texas grid collapsed because some 28,000 megawatts of coal, nuclear, and gas power went offline—about a third of ERCOT’s total capacity. ERCOT failed, because fossil fuels ...

21-02-2021

What went wrong? The Lone Star State made three fundamental errors.

A woman adjusts an oil lamp in the dark while standing between her two sons
Texas’s outage left millions of people, including Manessa Grady and her two sons, in the dark. (Tamir Kalifa / The New York Times / Redux)

How could this have happened? For four days, millions of people in Texas—the so-called energy capital of the world—shivered in the dark, unable to turn the lights on or run their heaters during some of the coldest days in decades. At least 30 Texans have died so far, including a 75-year-old man whose oxygen machine lost power and an 11-year-old boy who may have perished of hypothermia. Desperate families have tried to stay warm by running generators and grills indoors, leading to more than 450 carbon-monoxide poisonings, many of them in children.

Severed from electricity and bare to the frigid weather, Texas’s infrastructure suffered a kind of multisystem failure. Pipes began to burst inside homes. Cell networks went down, preventing people from calling 911. In Austin and elsewhere, so many people ran their pipes at a drip (in order to prevent them from freezing) that the water system depressurized, contaminating the supply and forcing residents to boil their water before using it.

On Friday, about half of state residents were under some kind of water advisory, according to The Texas Tribune. And 33,000 homes and businesses still have no power.

America’s second-largest state was brought to its knees by winter weather. How could this have happened?

Here are three explanations. I won’t give away the ending, but they are many of the same issues that hampered the United States in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Too many crucial systems in this country are run on an ad hoc basis. A lack of planning, a reliance on just-in-time logistics, and a self-defeating trust in the profit motive are withering the American economy and way of life.

1. It’s simple: Nobody planned for this. “We are not known for our winters here,” Joshua Rhodes, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute, told me. “We vastly underestimated how cold [it]—and how widespread that cold—could get in Texas.”

The power grid is a titanic machine made of copper and steel, but it has to be played like a Stradivarius. At any moment, power plants must generate about the same amount of electricity that customers demand. An out-of-balance grid can burst into flame or break down. This week, some of Texas’s biggest cities saw overnight wind chills around zero degrees Fahrenheit; temperatures across the state did not pass the freezing mark for days. Three in five Texans warm their homes with electric heaters. Those heaters suddenly needed a lot of power: The system didn’t have that power, so it failed.

Andrew Exum: I’m freezing cold and burning mad in Texas

This failure cascaded down the power lines. When the managers of Texas’s grid realized that they had too little power to meet demand, they told local transmission organizations—smaller grids that cover specific cities or regions—to begin rolling blackouts, Rhodes said. This is a standard move when electricity becomes scarce, but the outages are supposed to, as the name says, roll. In a normal rolling blackout, managers will cut electricity to a neighborhood, wait 45 minutes or so, then rotate it to the next neighborhood and restore power to the first. Nobody likes it, but at least everyone gets some power.

But the “outages are not rotating” in Texas, Rhodes said. This is because the state was—again—unprepared. In an emergency, every local grid must keep the power running to certain key facilities, such as hospitals and 911 call centers. This week, when the local grids directed power to the circuits that serve those facilities, they used up all of the electricity they could distribute. In many cities, that critical infrastructure wasn’t entirely on the same grid circuit. So the blackouts never rolled: Some houses lost power for three days, and others, those lucky enough to be on the same grid circuits as hospitals, kept their heaters running the whole time.

2. But this explanation begs the question: Why couldn’t Texas generate enough electricity?

The Texas grid is named after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the agency in charge of managing it. (Yes, reliability is in the name—making ERCOT perhaps the sole instance of oxymoronic metonymy in English.) ERCOT can keep the lights on during sweltering summer days, when Texans demand more than 70,000 megawatts of power. During this week’s coldest days, Texans demanded about that much power again, Rhodes said. Yet this time, the grid could deliver only about 40,000 megawatts. What happened?

Texas politicians had an early explanation. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid,” Governor Greg Abbott told Fox News’s Sean Hannity this week. “It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”

In fact, a senior director at ERCOT now says that renewable-energy outages were the least important factor in the blackouts. And although wind energy underperformed ERCOT’s estimates on Monday, solar power actually overshot them. More important, the Texas grid collapsed because some 28,000 megawatts of coal, nuclear, and gas power went offline—about a third of ERCOT’s total capacity. ERCOT failed, because fossil fuels failed. And one fuel failed in particular: natural gas.

“It reminds me of watching The Big Short,” Daniel Cohan, an engineering professor at Rice University, told me, of Texas’s natural-gas crisis. “You had the best and the brightest, the financial wizards of Wall Street, that knew how to put together a portfolio that was diversified.” But they didn’t foresee that a single massive crisis could tank the value of mortgages across the country simultaneously, taking their portfolios with it.

Likewise, Texas “had a system that depended on one fuel alone, natural gas, to provide two-thirds of our supply when we needed it most in the winter,” Cohan said. Then “an Arctic blast hit all of our components at once,” and the energy system cracked apart like Lehman Brothers.

Texas generates about half of its electricity by burning natural gas. Over the past few decades, companies have constructed a labyrinth of pipelines and fracking wells, smokestacks and export terminals; the tendrils of natural-gas infrastructure now span the length of the state, and reach thousands of feet underground. In a feat of just-in-time logistics, gas is delivered to power plants nearly at the moment that it’s combusted. Most gas plants do not buy fuel in advance, Rhodes said, and few keep on-site backup fuel, such as diesel, to run in case their pipelines break. In fact, the Lone Star State as a whole doesn’t maintain much natural-gas storage, because it treats the ground as its reserve: If it needs more gas, it can always drill.

Photos: Texas Is a Mess

Nor is the power system the sole consumer of natural gas in Texas. During the winter, homes, hospitals, and offices pipe in the fuel to burn in heaters and boilers.

This remarkable system was totally unequipped for a polar vortex. As temperatures plunged, the pipelines delivering gas to power plants froze and depressurized. At the same time, those homes, offices, and hospitals all claimed whatever meager gas was still available. A system built for summer was outmatched by winter—and Texas, sitting on one of the world’s largest natural-gas reserves, suffered a statewide run on gas.

For energy experts who have sometimes looked past natural gas’s considerable downsides, the failure is striking. “The reliability of natural gas is supposed to be its selling point,” Cohan said. “We put up with minor earthquakes, fracking fluid, air pollution, methane leaks, and climate change because we need this ‘firm and reliable’ source.”

What happened wasn’t so different from what struck FedEx, Charmin, and New York’s health-care system when the pandemic hit last year. There was enough toilet paper in America for everyone to buy it every few months, but not for everyone to buy it the same week. Just-in-time logistics, whether by pipeline or cargo ship, makes good economic sense; it’s cheaper than running a system with a little built-in slack. But it depends on tomorrow looking roughly like yesterday, and when something unusual happens—such as Texas freezing over—the system fails.

When a shortage like this hits Lululemon, it means you can’t buy spandex bike shorts. When it hits the power grid, it means children freeze to death in their beds.

3. Yet why didn’t someone plan for a natural-gas shortage? A wintertime run on supply was entirely foreseeable. Pipelines could have been ordered to winterize; power plants could have maintained on-site backup. The natural aspect of this disaster had precedent: Although Texas saw brutal temperatures this week, they were within the historical norm.

Some researchers, including Cohan at Rice, have started to call Texas’s failure an “energy-governance problem.” This is a shorthand way of saying that society’s plans didn’t make sense, because they assumed that natural gas could do an impossible number of things at the same time. And nobody noticed this beforehand, because it was nobody’s job to notice.

In 1999, Texas restructured its power sector, dumping its old utilities and adopting in their place a new and totalizing market system. But this market looks little like the markets we know from everyday life. Consumers cannot buy electricity like it’s breakfast cereal or sell it like a used car. Instead, Texas has a market only a lawyer could love: a legalistic, mechanistic auction between power plants and distribution companies, funded with consumers’ utility bills.

In this market, ERCOT is less an administrator than an auctioneer. Governor Abbott vowed this week that Texas would “investigate what lapse of judgment ERCOT had with regards to preparing for this situation”—but as he likely knows, ERCOT judges in the same way that eBay judges who will take home this Walker, Texas Ranger varsity jacket. When Texas needs more power, the price of electricity on ERCOT’s market increases. For days this week, it approached ,000 per megawatt-hour. (A megawatt-hour is enough to power several hundred homes. In Washington, D.C., where I’m writing this, electricity currently costs about a megawatt-hour.)

Those high prices are supposed to drive power-generation capacity online. They didn’t—because of the ice-locked equipment and natural-gas crunch. “The price could’ve been a million dollars a kilowatt-hour, but you can’t supply with gas you don’t have,” Cohan told me.

Yet as the market foundered, those generators that survived made a killing. By one measure, ERCOT power plants have made more already this year than they made in the past three years combined. Meanwhile, customers are suffering. In four days, the city of Denton paid 7 million for electricity—which is more than it pays in a typical year, the Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Puko has found. When Texas’s power market does allow consumers to join as market participants, it does so through start-ups, such as Griddy, that give consumers unfettered access to wholesale ERCOT power prices. Most of the time, Griddy consumers pay alluringly low prices—except, this week, some found themselves owing ,500 a day.

At the core of ERCOT’s structure is a total trust in markets, says Leah Stokes, a political-science professor at UC Santa Barbara. To design a system such as ERCOT, “you have to believe that markets are better at coordinating than centralized planning,” she told me.

Whatever the virtues of that hope, they were not borne out this week. The city of El Paso has its own utility, separate from ERCOT’s market system. That utility maintained power while ERCOT drowned. Why? After a winter storm swept through Texas in 2011, El Paso planned for future cold-weather disruption by winterizing its natural-gas infrastructure. ERCOT did not. Nor did the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates power generation statewide, mandate such preparedness.

In short, the Texas government assumed that high prices alone could guarantee grid reliability and incentivize power plants to prepare for the worst. This didn’t happen. The market failed.

David A. Graham: Ted Cruz is no hypocrite. He’s worse.

This failure reminds me of what I observed while reporting on America’s COVID-19 testing failure. For months last year, the federal government failed to adequately plan and pay for the industrial-scale production of COVID-19 tests. It assumed that high demand for tests would lure companies to join the market. But no individual private firm had an incentive to risk short-term stability for potential medium-term profit. So the country went months without sufficient tests.

Texas’s crisis reveals, too, how independence, a praiseworthy trait in postcolonial states and precocious children, is less laudable in the power sector. Rick Perry, the former secretary of energy and Texas governor, implied this week that his old constituents should prefer the blackouts over federal control. “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” he said. He is more correct than he may have realized. After that 2011 winter storm, the federal government actually did require Texas power plants to draw up plans for how they would avert a worse disaster, Rhodes, the UT researcher, said. But it had no ability to enforce those plans, and power plants seemingly put them aside.

The power grid is modern society’s life-support system. Everything on which daily survival now depends—clean water, refrigeration, medical care, reliable communication, access to cash and banking—requires, to some degree, electricity. Every day, in a marvel of engineering and statecraft, a national network of wire delivers 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to Americans. Rome once united its territory by paving the Via Appia down Italy’s spine; the U.S. raises power lines.

This week, a Vietnam veteran died in his truck with his last tank of oxygen because he had no power. He deserved better. The power grid is a very large and important machine, but it is also an ennobling tool, a guarantor of solidarity and dignity. The grid grants a certain kind of freedom—freedom from darkness, freedom from cold or heat, even freedom from boredom. There is a freedom in knowing that anything you plug into the wall will turn on; there is a freedom, too, in knowing that your house will stay inhabitable and your pipes will not burst. Texas’s system is built on the idea that the liberty of companies to buy and sell electrons—and the freedom of consumers to pay a ,500 power bill—is greater and more dear than any freedom wrought by consistent power service.

Perhaps ERCOT’s strangest and most un-American trait is that it strips citizens of their democratic authority; instead of being able to hold someone accountable when the power goes out, Texans are told that the market, like a rain god, has failed again. You might say that ERCOT, in its majestic equality, allows rich and poor alike to think like an economist. Frankly, Texans have better things to do. Moreover, if the freedom to survive a snowstorm is worth protecting, if it is a freedom we owe to one another, it is a freedom worth planning for. Markets are good tools; they aren’t our only tools. Government by auction is no way to live. Indeed, Texans are dying of it.

Texas' power outages: Why does the state have its own grid?

16-02-2021 · The grid has been thrust into the national spotlight as extreme energy demand and overloaded frozen utility plants contributed to widespread …

16-02-2021

AUSTIN, Texas – As winter storm blackouts roil Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit that operates Texas' electrical grid, has gained sudden notoriety – as well as the unusual fact that Texas has its own electrical grid.

The U.S. has three power grids: one covers the eastern U.S., another the western states and the Texas grid covers nearly the entire state.

The grid has been thrust into the national spotlight as extreme energy demand and overloaded frozen utility plants contributed to widespread power outages across Texas, experts said.

Nearly 4.5 million customers went without electricity Tuesday, and by Wednesday over 3.1 million Texans still didn't have the lights turned on, according to poweroutage.us.

'Massive failure':Why are millions of people in Texas still without power?

The breakdown sparked growing outrage and demands for answers over how Texas – whose Republican leaders as recently as last year taunted California over the Democratic-led state's rolling blackouts – failed such a massive test of a major point of state pride: energy independence. And it cut through politics, as fuming Texans took to social media to highlight how while their neighborhoods froze in the dark Monday night, downtown skylines glowed despite desperate calls to conserve energy.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) system operators work inside a massive control room May 15, 2018, in Taylor, Texas, updating electric use every five minutes.

The predecessor for ERCOT was formed in the 1930s, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with regulating interstate electricity sales.

"Utilities in Texas were smart and made an agreement that no one was going to extend power outside of Texas," Donna Nelson, who served as chair of the state Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, from 2008 to 2017, said in an ERCOT promotional video about the history of the grid. 

"By eschewing transmission across state lines, the Texas utilities retained freedom," Richard D. Cudahy wrote in a 1995 article. "This policy of isolation avoided regulation by the newly created Federal Power Commission, whose jurisdiction was limited to utilities operating in interstate commerce."

The result was "an electrical island in the United States," Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT, said. "That independence has been jealously guarded, I think both by policy makers and the industry."

Even today ERCOT, which was formed in 1970, remains beyond the reach of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate electric transmission.

ERCOT now manages about 90% of the state's power for 26 million customers.

Many of those customers are voicing frustrations after they were left in the cold.

"They had a fairly significant lead time to prepare for this," said Texas resident Tim Taylor. He said it fell to 37 degrees inside his home in Tarrytown on Tuesday – "which is pretty brutal." 

He and his wife looked into getting a hotel room, but every place they called was either booked up or without power, leaving him frustrated about the lingering blackout.

"It's just an inexplicable failure," he said.

The grid began preparing for the storm a week ahead of time, but it reached a breaking point early Monday as conditions worsened and knocked power plants offline, ERCOT President Bill Magness said. Some wind turbine generators were iced, but nearly twice as much power was wiped out at natural gas and coal plants. Forcing controlled outages was the only way to avert an even more dire blackout in Texas, Magness said.

“What we’re protecting against is worse,” he said.

But the toll of the outages was causing increasing worry. Harris County emergency officials reported “several carbon monoxide deaths” in or around Houston and reminded people not to operate cars or gasoline-powered generators indoors. Authorities said three young children and their grandmother, who were believed to be trying to keep warm, also died in a suburban Houston house fire early Tuesday. In Galveston, the medical examiner's office requested a refrigerated truck to expand body storage, although County Judge Mark Henry said he didn't know how many deaths there had been related to the weather.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the situation "unacceptable" and said he would add an emergency item to the state's legislative session on reforming ERCOT.

Winter weather:Another winter storm will bring snow and ice to 100 million people from the South to the East Coast

Contributing: Ryan Miller, USA TODAY; Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press

Follow reporter Asher Price on Twitter: @asherprice

COVID-19 endemic:Health officials say the coronavirus will likely become endemic in the next several years. What does that mean?

Texas produces more power than any other state. Here's why ...

16-02-2021 · Texas has been hit with life-threatening blackouts. More than 4 million people in the state were without power early Tuesday. In response, Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into ...

16-02-2021
US oil prices rise as winter weather hits Texas

New York (CNN Business)Even mighty Texas, the energy powerhouse of America, is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature.

A deep freeze this week in the Lone Star state, which relies on electricity to heat many homes, is causing power demand to skyrocket. At the same time, natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities in Texas have been knocked offline by the unthinkably low temperatures.

This situation could have wide-reaching implications as the US power industry attempts to slash carbon emissions in response to the climate crisis.

That nightmarish supply-demand situation has sent electricity prices in energy-rich Texas to skyrocket more than 10,000% compared with before the unprecedented temperatures hit. Texas has been hit with life-threatening blackouts. More than 4 million people in the state were without power early Tuesday.

In response, Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, which controls most of the state's grid. The group's CEO on Tuesday defended the controlled outages, saying they "kept the grid from collapsing" and sending the state into a complete blackout.

Although some are attempting to pin the blame on one fuel source or another, the reality is that the Arctic temperatures are hobbling fossil fuels and renewable energy alike.

"The extreme cold is causing the entire system to freeze up," said Jason Bordoff, a former energy official in the Obama administration and director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. "All sources of energy are underperforming in the extreme cold because they're not designed to handle these unusual conditions."

The ripple effects are being felt around the nation as Texas' prolific oil-and-gas industry stumbles.

Motiva's sprawling Port Arthur oil refinery, the largest in the United States, shut down Monday, citing "unprecedented freezing temperatures." About 2.5 million barrels per day of refining capacity was shut between Houston and Louisiana, according to Rystad Energy.

Countless drillers went offline as temperatures in the Permian Basin, the nation's fracking capital, plunged below zero. The supply shortfall helped send US oil prices above a barrel for the first time since January 2020.

Prices at the pump are also on the rise. The national average could easily rise 15 cents per gallon over the next week or two, according to Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

Texas is No. 1 in natural gas, oil and wind

It's striking that these power outages are happening in a state with abundant energy resources. Texas produces more electricity than any other US state — generating almost twice as much as Florida, the next-closest, according to federal statistics.

Texas is the No. 1 US state in both crude oil and natural gas, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The state accounted for a staggering 41% of America's oil production in 2019 and a quarter of its marketed natural gas output.

Wind power is also booming in Texas, which produced about 28% of all the US wind-powered electricity in 2019, the EIA said.

But the problem is that not only is Texas an energy superpower, it tends to be an above-average temperature state. That means its infrastructure is ill-prepared for the cold spell currently wreaking havoc. And the consequences are being felt by millions.

It's not just wind power

Critics of renewable energy have pointed out that wind turbines have frozen or needed to be shut down due to the extreme weather.

And that is significant because almost a quarter (23%) of the power in Texas last year was generated by wind power, according to ERCOT.

Even though other places with colder weather (like Iowa and Denmark) rely on wind for even larger shares of power, experts said the turbines in Texas were not winterized for the unexpected freeze. Cold weather protection like antifreeze and heating elements within the turbine blades and components are not commonly used in Texas.

"That adds cost, so it is cheaper to not have those additional features," said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University who studies energy systems and policy.

But this is not just about wind turbines going down. Natural gas and coal-fired power plants need water to stay online. Yet those water facilities froze in the cold temperatures and others lost access to the electricity they require to operate.

"The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen. This includes the natural gas & coal generators," Governor Abbott wrote on Twitter.

And that's an even bigger deal to Texas than frozen wind turbines because combined cycle natural gas (40%) and coal (18%) generated more than half of the state's power in 2020, according to ERCOT.

'Power prices going to the moon'

Nuclear also depends on water to operate and at least one unit in South Texas shut down, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Texas gets about 11% of its power from nuclear.

"Even if Texas did not have wind power, you would still have power prices going to the moon," said Matthew Hoza, manager of energy analysis at BTU Analytics.

The problem, according to Hoza, is that a lot of companies in Texas did not invest in cold protection for power plants and natural gas facilities.

"When you're in West Texas, are you really going to spend money on that equipment?" Hoza said.

It's too early to definitively say what went wrong in Texas and how to prevent similar outages. More information will need to be released by state authorities.

Still, some experts say the criticism of wind power appears overdone already.

"In terms of the blame game, the focus on wind is a red herring. It's more of a political issue than what is causing the power problems on the grid," said Dan Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University.

Cohan said there was a far greater shortfall in terms of the amount of power Texas was expecting from natural gas than wind.

It's clear that a wide range of energy sources — from fossil fuels to renewables — were not prepared for the unusual weather in Texas.

"Regions need to rethink the extreme conditions to which they're planning for and to make sure their systems are designed to be resilient to those," said Princeton's Jenkins.

The energy crisis in Texas raises also questions about the nature of the state's deregulated and decentralized electric grid. Unlike other states, Texas has made a conscious decision to isolate its grid from the rest of the country.

That means that when things are running smoothly, Texas can't export excess power to neighboring states. And in the current crisis, it can't import power either.

"When it comes to electricity, what happens in Texas stays in Texas," Cohan said. "That has really come back to bite us."

Texas power outages: Why blackouts hit as temperatures ...

19-02-2021 · But on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, pointed to freezing natural gas as part of the problem. "The reason why power is not available for your viewers is …

19-02-2021
Texas Power Outage

Texans are out of power thanks to a cold snap.

Getty Images

Texas' power grid was on the verge of failure after a cold snap brought record low temperatures, snow and rolling blackouts across the state. Millions of Texans were without power, and some people have questioned why a state that produces the most power in the US is unable to keep the lights on. Misinformation about the blackout has also started to spread online, falsely putting the blame on wind and solar energy. 

Roughly 4 million people in Texas had to deal with outages for most of the week as power generators and natural gas pipes froze, crippling the state's production capabilities. This led the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state's power grid, to administer rolling blackouts to avoid a grid failure. ERCOT ended the emergency conditions Friday because no more outages were required.  

ERCOT operations have returned to normal, and we are no longer asking for energy conservation. Thanks for helping the grid during this very difficult time.

— ERCOT (@ERCOT_ISO) February 19, 2021

Here's what you need to know about the power outages in Texas.

What happened to the power in Texas?

This past weekend, a winter storm made its way into Texas, bringing freezing cold to the state. As temperatures began to dip into the teens Monday morning, power plant generators across the state started to freeze and went offline, leading to a significant decrease in energy production. At the same time, demand for power increased as people turned up the thermostat. 

Almost 50% of power generated by Texas comes from natural gas, with the other half divided among coal, wind, nuclear and solar. Because of the cold, however, gas can't even make its way from the ground through the pipes. ERCOT says 46,000 megawatts were offline as of Wednesday. One megawatt is enough to power roughly 200 homes a year. There are 70 to 80 power plants offline as of Wednesday, out of 680 across the state. Thermal energy -- natural gas, coal and nuclear -- made up 28,000 of those megawatts while wind and solar made up the other 16,000. 

"The ability for gas generators to produce, particularly at full output, was affected by the freezing impact on the natural gas supply," Bill Magness, ERCOT president and CEO, said during a livestream Wednesday. "So getting those resources back is the central solution to getting people their power back."

Approximately 40% of generators went offline due to the cold weather. The significant drop in power generated led to rolling blackouts across the state as ERCOT tried to keep a balance between the supply and demand in order to prevent a "catastrophic" blackout. This made the outage last much longer than ERCOT anticipated. 

As for prepping power plants for extreme cold to prevent generators from freezing, Dan Woodfin,  senior director of system operations for ERCOT, says there are national standards being considered, but they have yet to be mandatory. 

"It's voluntary guidelines for the individual generation companies to decide to do those things," Woodfin said. "They have financial incentive to be able to participate in the market to follow those [regulations] and stay online, but there's no regulation at this point." 

He went on to explain that in northern states, power generators are typically located in buildings, which help protect them in the winter. Texas, however, keeps generators outside in order to make full use of them in the summer months when energy demand is high with more homes using air conditioning. Having those generators indoors would cause an increase in heat and prevent them from being used at their full capacity. According to Woodfin, there are best practices to keep generators online during cold weather, but those were not sufficient with the extremely low temperatures. 

Texas has its own independent power grid and isn't connected to the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection grids covering the rest of the country. The state can draw power from neighboring states and Mexico, but the amount available is limited. It also didn't help that neighboring states were in need of all their electricity to keep up with demand.  

Audio of a Feb. 9 meeting of ERCOT officials suggested they may not have taken the winter storm as seriously as they could have, local news outlet KSAT-12 reported on Friday. During the two-hour and 28 minute meeting, the upcoming winter storm was discussed for less than 40 seconds, KSAT-12 said. ERCOT CEO Bill Magness responded, telling the outlet: "I think it was the first thing I mentioned when I started briefing the board ... there were certainly lots of communications from us, and if what I said indicated we weren't concerned, I really was just trying to notify the board that this is something we gotta keep an eye on because it's coming at us."

What's the deal with people blaming wind and solar?

Confusion over the cause of the blackouts began spreading on social media Tuesday, especially from state government officials. 

"The reason for blackouts is complex, but in summary: Texas took too many lessons from Cali, over-subsidized renewables, & pushed out baseload energy like natural gas," Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas, tweeted Tuesday. 

A similar sentiment came from fellow GOP Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson who said on Facebook on Tuesday, "Our reliance on renewable energy needs to be revisited IMMEDIATELY."

But on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, pointed to freezing natural gas as part of the problem. 

"The reason why power is not available for your viewers is because the power generators froze up and their equipment was incapable of generating power. Then on top of that, the natural gas that flows into those power generators, that is frozen up also," Abbott told Houston's ABC-13. 

On Tuesday night, though, Abbott went on Sean Hannity's program on Fox News and gave a different explanation of what happened. 

"Our wind and solar got shut down, and they are collectively 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis," he told Hannity. "As a result, it shows fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas." 

According to ERCOT officials, however, the majority of power lost came from thermal energy, which is primarily made up of natural gas, and not wind or solar energy. 

"As of 9 a.m.," the organization said in a press release Wednesday, "approximately 46,000 MW of generation has been forced off the system during this extreme winter weather event. Of that, 28,000 MW is thermal and 18,000 MW is wind and solar." 

Abbott appeared to walk back his comments on Wednesday during a press conference in Austin. 

"I was asked a question on one TV show about renewable, and I responded to that question," Abbott said. "Every source of power that the state of Texas has has been compromised."

When will the power come back on? 

On Wednesday, ERCOT didn't provide a specific time on when power would be restored, but it did say the best-case scenario was Thursday morning. On Thursday it said a majority of customers had their lights turned back on and that the grid was holding steady. On Friday, normal conditions were reestablished. 

Texas power outage map: What caused outages, ERCOT rolling ...

15-02-2021 · Why is Texas having power outages and rolling blackouts? At the most basic level, the outages have been caused because demand amid the bitter …

15-02-2021

Power outages across Texas have left millions of people in the dark and bitter cold this week amid an unprecedented winter storm that buried the state in snow and ice and brought single-degree temperatures.

Extreme energy demand and overloaded frozen utility plants are among the factors that led to the power outages, experts said.

"No matter which way you cut it, this is a massive failure for a grid and a state that holds up energy and electricity as a shining example," said Varun Rai, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas-Austin.

Nearly 4.5 million customers went without electricity Tuesday, and by Wednesday over 3.3 million Texans still didn't have the lights turned on, according to poweroutage.us.

Power outages across Texas

The country is divided into three grids: one covers the eastern USA, another the western states and there is the Texas grid, which covers nearly the entire state.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, manages about 90% of the state's power for 26 million customers. 

During a news conference Tuesday, representatives from ERCOT said there were 45,000 megawatts offline. Of that, 15,000 megawatts were wind and 30,000 were gas and coal. 

Supply fell short by about 34,000 megawatts (MW) of energy, according to ERCOT. For comparison, when ERCOT restored 2,500 MW on Monday, that was enough power to serve 500,000 households.

Why is Texas having power outages and rolling blackouts?

At the most basic level, the outages have been caused because demand amid the bitter cold has outpaced the supply of energy used to heat and power homes, said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

A combination of mostly natural gas, some coal and a nuclear power plant failed to meet customers' demand, Cohan said.

ERCOT said it is instituting rolling outages across the system to prevent more outages as it worked to restore power for Texans.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the situation "unacceptable" and said he would add an emergency item to the state's legislative session on reforming ERCOT. The nonprofit corporation is subject to oversight from the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the  Legislature.

"Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather," Abbott said.

Cohan said three factors were probably at play, though it's too soon to say to what degree each played a role in causing the outages.

•First, some power plants may not have been operational during routine maintenance, Cohan said. Peak demand typically occurs in the summer, so it's not unexpected for a coal or natural gas plant to be offline in an effort to tune up for the warmer months.

•Second, some power plants may have failed to operate in the cold, Cohan said. "Plants are optimized to run under our typical and our extreme summer conditions, but they aren't as well prepared and engineered for extreme cold," he said.

According to Rai, if plants operate for too long in too extreme conditions, it could be too costly to operate and equipment might be damaged, which could exacerbate the outages for longer periods of time.

•Third, some natural gas plants may not have been able to get adequate supply of gas to be converted into electricity, Cohan said. Unlike a coal plant that has a ready stockpile, natural gas plants don't store as much on site, meaning any disruption at the supply source will lead to a disruption in turning on the lights.

Carey King, an assistant director and research scientist at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas-Austin, said it's possible that power outages at natural gas production sites led to failures in the electric compressors that move the gas.

"This is far beyond what the power system operators expected, a far deeper freeze and a far worse performance from our natural gas power plants than anyone anticipated," Cohan said.

To help offset potential outages, ERCOT told customers Sunday to conserve power by turning down thermostats, turning off and unplugging appliances and lights and avoiding using large appliances.

Rai said conservation was necessary to lessen the problem, but the issue was not at the margin. "The reality is very, very large. Thirty to 50% of capacity in parts of Texas went down," he said. "You're not out 5-10% of the power."

ERCOT said it was implementing rolling blackouts Monday "to protect the electric grid from uncontrolled, cascading outages."

Instead of the outages being spread across neighborhoods in shorter intervals, some areas have lost power for days while others have kept it the entire time, Cohan said.

A look at Texas' net electricity generation

Are frozen wind turbines to blame?

Some have pointed to freezing on wind turbines as a potential cause of the widespread outages, saying the renewable energy source is not reliable, but Cohan called those arguments "a red herring."

Rai said there are times of the year when wind is an extremely important energy source for Texas, powering half of the state's electricity supply.

This week, operators planned for much less wind capacity, though, Cohan said.

"Firm resources" – such as gas, coal and nuclear – failed to supply roughly 30,000 megawatts, which contributed to the bulk of the problem, Cohan said.

Drone footage shows how major Texas cities look covered in snow
A record-breaking winter storm continues to dump snow on the state of Texas.

Why was Texas not prepared for this?

In 2011, a similar deep freeze event caused widespread power outages in Texas, but the extent was not as great, Cohan said.

Grid operators learned some lessons from that experience and made adjustments, but they clearly underestimated that demand could rise even higher, Cohan said.

Cohan said issues on the supply side better explain what happened. "I think there wasn't enough planning for how interdependent our natural gas and electricity systems were."

Every summer during peak demand, the grid's reliability comes into question, Rai said, so it shouldn't be a shock that there could be a weather event that caused so much disruption. 

Read more: Why is Texas one of few states with its own power grid?

Why is it so cold? How the polar vortex brings record low temperatures and winter storms

Even though it occurred in the winter, there should be better planning, he said.

Though climate change typically is thought of as leading to warmer temperatures, scientists suspect it could also cause more unpredictable and severe weather. Blaming the failures on this cold being a one-in-30-years weather event is not an excuse, knowing that those events could become more common, Rai said. "Why are we only thinking about 30 years as a society?"

"One solution is if you can have capacity that is designed for conditions like this," Rai said.

King, of the Energy Institute, said incentivizing power plants to better weatherize should also be prioritized.

Though having that energy capacity is costly, two power outage events in 10 years because of the cold show it is necessary, he said.

States with power outages

Dig deeper: Power outage data across the U.S.

Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

Contributing: Carlie Procell, Yoonserk Pyun, Janet Loehrke, Javier Zarracina, Barry Harrell and Shawn Sullivan

Winter Storm Leaves Many In Texas Without Power And Water ...

17-02-2021 · As Texas endures further weather-related issues, including road and highway closures, there's a renewed focus on how the Texas power grid has failed. The Texas electrical grid is "facing ...

17-02-2021

People collect firewood with others from a wood heap opened to the public on Wednesday in Dallas, as cold and snow have shut off power and left many homes around the state frigid.

LM Otero/AP

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

Nearly 3 million homes and businesses in Texas remain without power, some for a third consecutive day, as severe winter weather continues to pummel the state, forcing some localities to issue boil-water notices and urge residents to reduce their electricity usage.

Heavy snowfall, ice storms and bitter temperatures continue to put an enormous strain on the state's power grid. This as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages roughly 75% of the Texas power grid, announced Wednesday morning that some 600,000 households had power restored overnight.

Some generation is slowly returning. 
ERCOT was able to direct utilities to restore 600,000 households last night. 
2.7 million households still do not have power.

— ERCOT (@ERCOT_ISO) February 17, 2021

That still left another 2.7 million customers having to endure extreme cold with no indication of when the thaw would break in their homes.

"We know millions of people are suffering," ERCOT's president and CEO, Bill Magness, said in a statement Wednesday. "We have no other priority than getting them electricity. No other priority."

ERCOT also said Wednesday that it was urging local utilities to shed some 14,000 megawatts of load, which translates to roughly 2.8 million customers, to prepare for a sudden increase in demand.

"The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online," said Dan Woodfin, the senior director of ERCOT's system operations.

He said that about 185 generating units were offline, stemming from a range of factors including frozen wind turbines, low gas pressure and frozen instrumentation.

But many Texans feel abandoned by the council and power companies and they are lashing out at the local face of utilities.

The City of Austin's community-owned electric utility, Austin Energy, issued a tweet saying crews that are working to restore power are facing harassment.

Our crews have been working 24/7 and in these elements. Some of our crews are reporting incidents of harassment, threatening them and even throwing things at them. I know people are extremely frustrated. But please, I bet of you, do not approach AE crews.

— Austin Energy (@austinenergy) February 17, 2021

"Our crews have been working 24/7 and in these elements," Austin Energy announced. "Some of our crews are reporting incidents of harassment, threatening them and even throwing things at them."

Officials pleaded with the public to remain calm. "I know people are extremely frustrated. But please, I bet of you, do not approach AE crews."

Parts of Austin are under a boil water notice, which Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros attempted to explain during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon.

"There was a large main break in that area, maybe multiple ones. We're seeing main breaks and pipes bursting by the tens of thousands. Our entire system is under stress," Meszaros said.

It's not just the Lone Star State that is being crippled by the arctic blast.

At least two dozen people have died this week from weather-related incidents, according to The Associated Press.

The National Weather Service reports that more than 100 million Americans are being affected by extreme winter weather from the south central U.S. to the East Coast, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The National Weather Service adds that cold temperatures over the nation's heartland will begin to "moderate in the coming days" but that many parts will remain 20 to 35 degrees below normal in the Great Plains, Mississippi Valley and lower Great Lakes region.

"Potential is increasing for significant icing across portions of the Mid-Atlantic, which will be very impactful, especially for those hardest hit from the previous ice storm," the National Weather Service tweeted Wednesday.

Potential is increasing for significant icing across portions of the Mid-Atlantic, which will be very impactful, especially for those hardest hit from the previous ice storm. Image: probability of 0.10" of ice accumulation through Friday morninghttps://t.co/GuWu5Qp0ZT pic.twitter.com/0aTmkxiR4T

— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) February 17, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott railed against ERCOT, saying the utility "has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours."

"This is unacceptable," Abbott added, as residents were facing rotating intentional power outages. The governor issued an executive order that will add reforms for how the power grid is managed as an emergency legislative item for the state legislature to review.

The rolling power outages forced Fort Worth to extend a boil-water notice for roughly 212,000 residents. Officials said the outages affected the city's systems that both treat water and move it to customers.

Fort Worth officials said nine other localities that purchase water from the city are also affected, including Haslet, Keller, Lake Worth and Northlake.

Officials in Houston also issued a boil-water notice for the city's residents Wednesday.

"Do no[t] drink the water without boiling it first," Houston Public Works said from its official Twitter account. "Bring all water to a boil for at least two minutes. Let it cool before using."

In Harris County, which includes Houston, Judge Lina Hidalgo warned residents about extended power outages.

"Let me give it to you straight, based on the visibility I have: Whether you have power or not right now, there is a possibility of power outages even beyond the length of this weather," Hidalgo said, according to Houston Public Media.

The NPR member station adds that county officials have also reported more than 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning since Monday as residents going without electricity search desperately for alternative sources of warmth.

"In no uncertain terms, this is a public health disaster and a public health emergency," Samuel Prater, an emergency physician at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, said at a news briefing Tuesday.

Prater warned residents that over the last 24 hours, emergency officials "have seen a striking increase in the number of cases related to improper heating sources," including indoor use of generators, charcoal grills, campfire stoves and other devices that are being used to warm homes. The result, he added, is carbon monoxide poisoning of entire families.

"If you think you or a loved one has become ill from carbon monoxide poisoning, first thing you need to do is get outside to fresh air," Prater said.

A woman and an 8-year-old girl are among those who have reportedly died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a vehicle was left running inside a garage in an attempt to generate heat, according to Houston's ABC affiliate.

As Texas endures further weather-related issues, including road and highway closures, there's a renewed focus on how the Texas power grid has failed.

The Texas electrical grid is "facing conditions that it was not designed for," said Emily Grubert, a professor at Georgia Tech whose expertise includes electric networks.

"These are really extreme conditions for the Texas grid. It's very cold. It's cold across the entire state, and it's cold for a long time. This does not happen very often," she said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.

"Demand really spiked both in the electricity and the natural gas systems at the same time as a lot of the generators were not able to operate because of those cold conditions, and not being prepared for it is really what's going on," Grubert said. "But a lot of grids are susceptible to really, really major failures when they are this far outside of design conditions."

Abbott told Fox News on Tuesday that with weather-related shutdowns in wind and solar energy, which account for more than 10% of the state's grid, renewable energy is partly to blame for the Texas power crisis.

"It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure that we'll be able to heat our homes in the wintertime and cool our homes in the summertime," Abbott said.

But Grubert said that "coal, gas and nuclear actually shut down because of the extreme cold due to things like instruments freezing, et cetera. So I think the overall point here is all of the fuels were really, really struggling."

NPR's Avie Schneider contributed to this report.

Why Did Texas’s Energy Grid Fail So Spectacularly?

17-02-2021 · Millions of Texans have lost power as a result of a brutal winter storm. Don’t blame wind turbines; the cause is bad energy-grid policy and freakish weather.

17-02-2021

Photo: Chengyue Lao/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Texans know how to plan for 110-degree weather, but 10-degree weather? Not so much. That’s been painfully evident over the past six days as the Lone Star State suffers its worst winter weather in decades. The entire state has been plunged into record-low temperatures, creating icy roads, followed by heavy snow — even on the beaches of Galveston, on the warm Gulf Coast — and cities in Texas don’t have the infrastructure to manage it. Southern and central Texas, where winter weather is rarest, are especially ill equipped.

With everyone inside and cranking up the heat, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit organization that manages the state’s electric grid, was forced to enact rolling blackouts, some of which are still in effect, to provide relief to the grid. (About 60 percent of Texans heat their homes with electricity.) Between those and multiple grid failures, as many as 4 million people lost power across the state. It’s not likely to warm up until the weekend.

How the heck did it get so cold in Texas, y’all?

Arctic air is usually trapped around the North Pole by a counterclockwise jet stream known as the polar vortex. But a rapid warming over the pole in early January disrupted the vortex and dislodged some of the Earth’s coldest air, leading first to huge snowfalls in the Northeast and now sending air from Siberia over the top of the Earth and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Is this because of climate change?

Given that this all originated with rapid warming over the Arctic, and given that the poles are warming much faster than the rest of the planet, it’s easy to assume that the freaky winter we’re in the middle of is all because of global warming. But scientists warn that it’s hard to draw a straight line from climate change to any single weather event. There has, however, been some research tying the release of polar air to climate change.

What happened to the juice?

One of the many systems in Texas that’s built for heat but not cold is energy delivery. Natural gas, which supplies Texans with more than 60 percent of their electricity during the winter, shut down when pipes and wellheads froze. Wind turbines, which produce about 10 percent of the state’s winter power, iced up and stopped. Solar panels have been producing less, too.

#BREAKING: @ERCOT_ISO says 46,000MW of electrical generating capacity is off-line today.Yesterday the number was 45,000MW.Monday it was 34,000MW.28,000MW is gas, coal, nuclear. 18,000MW is wind, solar.

185 power plants have tripped off line.

— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) February 17, 2021

ERCOT’s forecast for this winter projected a capacity of 83,000 megawatts and a peak demand of 57,699 megawatts. All the individual failures have taken more than half of that capacity — 46,000 megawatts on Wednesday — offline. At the same time, Texans are all indoors right now and cranking up the heat, leading to a winter record demand of 69,150 megawatts. That might be manageable in the summer, when energy providers are prepared for everyone running their air conditioning, but it’s a heavier lift in the winter. Record demand coupled with the supply shock caused the whole system to buckle.

But the lights are already coming back on, right?

In some places. As of Wednesday morning, 2.8 million Texans were without power, so the situation is better than it was but still pretty bad. It’s also still really cold, and new problems are arising. In the past two days, the power-supply situation has actually gotten worse: 34,000 megawatts were offline Monday, and that figure rose to 46,000 today. Texas Gas Service has warned the areas it covers — Austin, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley — that outages could drag on for another day, adding that residents should try to limit their power usage. Austin Energy announced Wednesday morning that “two emergency events” will cause new outages that could drag through the rest of the week. CenterPoint Energy, which serves south and east Texas, also told residents to expect new outages.

Then why are we hearing so much about those wind turbines instead of frozen gas pipelines?

After the storm, Republicans almost immediately latched on to photos of frozen wind turbines as an example of the allegedly failed green-energy policies of the left. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page lambasted “liberals” for deep-red Texas deprioritizing coal in favor of wind energy, even as the paper’s own reporting debunked it with a story titled “Don’t Blame Wind for Texas Electricity Woes.” The shutdown of wind turbines has accounted for less than 13 percent of the energy that’s gone offline since last week.

The problem lies elsewhere. Texas operates almost entirely on its own electric grid, one of three in the mainland United States. (The rest of the country is more or less split along the Rocky Mountains into the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection.) That’s because in 1935, Texas — then and now fond of secessionist impulses — took steps to avoid federal regulation that covers interstate electricity transmission. While this is a point of pride among Texans whose sole political purpose is to own the libs on Twitter, it makes it much harder for them to pin their energy problems on anyone but themselves. But they’re still trying. On Monday, Texas governor Greg Abbott passed the buck to the private sector, saying, “The people who have fallen short with regard to the power are the private power-generation companies.”

Who’s really to blame for this?

The regulations that govern the two electric grids that power the rest of the country reward power plants that build additional capacity for periods of excess demand. Texas does not, and the state hit dangerously low levels of reserve electricity in 2018 and 2019. The state’s legislators are calling for investigations, but those would probably lead to scrutiny of policies they openly support. And, admittedly, reforms to winterize the state’s power systems could be costly and potentially wasteful given that this was what could be reasonably described as a freak weather occurrence.

However, submitting to regulation under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as the rest of the country does, could ensure that Texas has contingency plans and enough reserve power to get its residents through the next surprise event. And while Republicans mindlessly oppose energy sources that don’t destroy the ecosystem, it’s actually good to have multiple generation methods available — including even coal — so that if one fails for whatever reason, others are available.

Although it’s natural to want to blame someone for the problem — the shortcomings in the system are very real — a lot of this really does come down to the simple fact of a once-in-a-generation event that’s hard to prepare for. Sometimes the Lord just wants to test the management of your power supply, y’all.

Is that Texas-only electric grid any good?

Having its own network may provide Texans with one less headache with regard to the Feds — and, in normal times, tend to keep electric bills down — but the state’s go-it-alone approach to energy infrastructure certainly has its drawbacks. Interstate energy trading could have helped make up some of the power shortfall this week. Ironic, really, in the No. 1 energy-producing American state.

But touting the benefits of an independent grid is a moot point when you don’t regularly invest in and maintain the grid in question. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, believes that the free-market approach Texas takes leads to lower returns for energy providers and thus fewer resources for keeping their plants up to date. Perhaps the most damning analogy — for a Texan anyway — came from Hirs in the Houston Chronicle: “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union. It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

Could the same thing happen in New York City?

It’s less likely but not out of the question. There are parallels between Texas and New York’s energy systems. The New York Independent System Operator, like ERCOT, manages the flow of power, and both states use diverse power sources but draw the majority of it from natural gas. (For the rest, New York fills in with hydroelectric and nuclear power where Texas uses wind.)

But there are also key differences. New York, being on the Eastern Interconnection, can receive power from other parts of the country in the event of an emergency — or be the victim of crises elsewhere. In 2003, a power line shorted out by a tree in Ohio led to the cascading disaster that blacked out 50 million people on the East Coast. Before that, reliability standards were voluntary. Afterward, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — which does not oversee the Texas-only grid — made those standards a requirement.

The most important variable is still the weather. New York experiences extreme weather in both the winter and the summer, thus its grid is built to deal with both heat and cold. There are, however, some events that are far enough outside the norm, such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, that will always be able to cause disruption. With climate change accelerating the frequency of extreme weather events, it’s only a matter of time before NYC is hit with one that challenges its system.

Why Did Texas’s Energy Grid Fail So Spectacularly?

Why Winter Storm Uri Caused Millions of Power Outages in Texas

15-02-2021 · Power plant equipment froze as demand surged for electricty amid frigid temperatures in Texas. - Articles from The Weather Channel | weather.com

15-02-2021
  • More than 3 million homes and businesses were still without power Tuesday.
  • Officials say power plant equipment froze.
  • And increased demand only made things worse.

Millions of people across Texas are shivering without electricity through one of the worst cold spells and largest snowfalls in the state's history.

But how did the state that produces more energy than any other end up without enough power to go around?

Here's what we know so far:

-At least 1 in 10 power plants in Texas were offline Tuesday, according to WFAA. There are 680 plants statewide. "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," Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that manages the state's power flow, told WFAA-TV in an interview Tuesday.

-The problem started Sunday night, when Winter Storm Uri moved in and temperatures plummeted to the single digits. "Beginning around 11:00 p.m., multiple generating units began tripping off-line in rapid progression due to the severe cold weather," Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, told WFAA. Key equipment froze, natural gas supplies were limited and, after daylight, solar farms were blocked out by cloud cover and snow, Magness said.

(MORE: Here's When the South Will Finally Thaw After Record-Smashing Cold, Snow and Ice)

-The record breaking weather led to record breaking demand for power, which strained the grid even more. By Monday morning, two million homes and businesses were without power across Texas. That number continued to go up throughout the day as temperatures went down. By the end of the day, there were more than 4.1 million outages being reported. More than 3 million remained without power by early Tuesday evening. And since each outage only represents a single utility customer, that number represents millions more people who were directly affected.

-Rolling blackouts didn't go as planned. ERCOT ordered local power companies to institute periodic shutoffs to keep the grid from shutting down altogether. But because there was already so little power to go around - and neighborhoods with hospitals, fire stations and water treatment plants were prioritized for energy - it was hard to evenly rotate the blackouts, according to the Wall Street Journal. That meant some homes were without power for extended periods of time, while others never lost it all.

-As of 2020, Texas got most of its power from natural gas-fueled plants, followed by wind turbines, coal and nuclear, the Journal reported. All were affected by the cold weather, Woodfin told Bloomberg. While it was widely reported that crippled wind turbines were largely to blame for the blackouts, Woodfin said that was the least significant factor.

-Some say the bigger problem lies in Texas' power system as a whole. Texas is the only state that runs its own power grid without any federal oversight. It also doesn't require power equipment to be winterized against extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, like other states do, according to WFAA. David Tuttle, a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said the issue comes up every decade or so, but cost is always a question. "All of us would love to say, we want super reliable [electricity]," Tuttle told WFAA. "It would be millions to really bulletproof the system for that. How much do we want to pay to go protect ourselves with insurance policies for rare events?"

-Lawmakers are looking for answers. Texas State House Speaker Dade Phelan has asked for a joint hearing later this month on the power outages. Phelan said in a statement that the purpose would be to understand what went wrong and help prevent it from happening again.

(MORE: At Least 17 Deaths Being Tied to Winter Storm Uri as Millions Remain Without Power)

-Many people turned to dangerous ways to keep warm. The Cy-Fair Fire Department in northwest Harris County transported 14 people, including seven children, to hospitals because of various carbon monoxide poisoning incidents. At least two people are dead. Officials pleaded with residents to remember never to use grills indoors for heat and to never operate a generator indoors or adjacent to a building.

-The Texas outages rank among the largest weather-related blackouts in a single state in U.S. history, according to poweroutage.us. They are the highest number of outages since Hurricane Irma left more than 6 million people in the dark in Florida in September 2017.

-There's no clear answer as to when everyone's power will be restored. As for the weather, another round of snow and ice through Wednesday night will be followed by more record cold through Saturday, though not as cold as what we've already seen, according to weather.com senior digital meteorologist Jon Erdman. "Fortunately, a warm up kicks into gear this weekend and, while it may not be springlike, it will certainly feel like that after this outbreak," Erdman said.

Bethany Fischer, right, rests her head on the shoulder of her husband Nic, while staying at a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. The couple, who lost power at their home on Monday, are part of the more than 4 million people in Texas who still had no power a full day after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Bethany Fischer, right, rests her head on the shoulder of her husband Nic, while staying at a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. The couple, who lost power at their home on Monday, are part of the more than 4 million people in Texas who still had no power a full day after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Texas power outages: Grid was 'minutes' from failing ...

17-02-2021 · A winter storm and lengthy cold snap have crippled power facilities in Texas and caused about 2.3 million outages as of Wednesday evening, leaving …

17-02-2021
CEO reacts to backlash over power outages in Texas

(CNN)A winter storm and lengthy cold snap have crippled power facilities in Texas and caused about 2.3 million outages as of Wednesday evening, leaving residents in the cold and dark for several days.

The lack of power to about a quarter of the state has created a widespread emergency, with families huddling in homes or cars without heat, burst water pipes, failing water systems and gasoline shortages.

Barbara Martinez said she had been burning firewood to try to heat her suburban Houston home, which had been without power from early Sunday until Tuesday.

"We got power for four hours and then it went off again and it stayed off for a few hours, came back for like two hours then went away," she said Wednesday morning. "It's currently off."

The outages cover the areas served by Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, from the counties bordering Mexico up to those touching Oklahoma, and from Houston in the east to rural Big Bend in the west. Yet areas outside of ERCOT's coverage zone, including the eastern border with Louisiana, the northwest panhandle and El Paso in the west, are basically unaffected.

Texas officials pointed the blame at the power company and called for investigations. US Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat who represents parts of Fort Worth and Dallas, said he's learned from an industry executive that the power grid was just minutes from failing on Monday before state agency officials initiated emergency rolling outages.

"I want people to know that we were minutes away from the entire grid crashing," he told CNN's Ed Lavandera, criticizing ERCOT and Republican leaders for not better preparing for the freeze.

"They certainly could have taken some precautions that would have prevented what we're having to deal with now," Veasey said.

An ERCOT spokesperson did not immediately return a CNN request for comment. But earlier Wednesday, CEO Bill Magness said the issue largely was a lack of energy supply as the cold weather shuttered power facilities. ERCOT's controlled power outages, he said, had in fact averted the system's collapse.

"If we had waited, and not done outages, not reduced demand to reflect what was going on, on the overall system, we could have drifted towards a blackout," he said. "People feel like what we're seeing feels like a blackout, but the blackout that can occur if you don't keep the supply and demand in balance could last months."

The power issues are likely to continue, especially given that the cold temperatures will last for another day or two. Over 21 million people, or nearly 70% of Texas's population, are currently under some sort of winter weather alert.

The controlled outages have created rotating power issues as ERCOT has tried to spread around the pain, pushing people to rely on warming centers or the kindness of neighbors.

"We have power for about 30 or 15 minutes and then we get a blackout for about five to six hours," said Eder Lemus of San Antonio.

The pipes in his house froze, so he, his wife and three children are relying on others for water.

"As of now, we are using a neighbor's faucet to refill a bucket of water to drain our toilets," he told said. "When and if the lights come back on, we try to take showers and refill our drinking water gallons so that we can stay hydrated."

Gov. Greg Abbott said that he has spoken with both the lieutenant governor and the state House speaker, and that an investigation of ERCOT is slated to begin next week.

"ERCOT is an independent private entity that, candidly, I have both investigated and prosecuted before when I was attorney general of Texas, and we're now investigating again," Abbott said. "I'm not suggesting any way that there's been any criminal activity or anything like that, but it is something that needs to be looked at."

Abbott said a news conference Wednesday that 6,000 megawatts have been added to the state's grid -- enough power for about 1.2 million households.

There will be additional onboarding coming from the South Texas Nuclear Project and additional operations will increase from coal-produced power, Abbott said.

These sources will add more than 2,000 megawatts to the grid and provide additional power for about 400,000 homes, according to Abbott. About 17,200 megawatts of renewable generated power remain out on Wednesday afternoon, due to "freezing of the wind, or because of lack of sun for the solar," Abbott said.

Why the system is failing

The widespread outages stem from a weather disaster coupled with an unprepared infrastructure.

A winter weather system brought unusually frigid temperatures to much of the central US over the past few days, including in Texas, the country's energy leader. The deep freeze caused demand for power and heating to skyrocket even as it knocked out the state's natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities, which were not ready to function in such cold weather.

The lack of winter preparedness has long been an issue for ERCOT's power system. About 10 years ago, a bitter cold snap caused over 3.2 million ERCOT customers to lose power during Super Bowl week. A 350-page federal report on the outages (PDF) found that the power generators' winterization procedures were "either inadequate or were not adequately followed."

When asked on Wednesday why ERCOT hasn't mandated more winterization to prevent outages, ERCOT's senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin said it was not required.

"I guess the role of ERCOT is not necessarily to mandate those kind of things," he said.

Woodfin said the company's annual spot checks to ensure generators are following best practice winterization plans were done virtually this year due to the pandemic.

Compounding the issue is that Texas's electric system of ERCOT is isolated from the rest of the country, partly as a way to avoid federal regulation. So it cannot simply import power from elsewhere to make up for the shortage.

"When it comes to electricity, what happens in Texas stays in Texas," said Dan Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University. "That has really come back to bite us."

And with temperatures not expected to rise above freezing until Friday, officials worry about how residents will cope without utilities. "I share the frustration of every Texan regarding the loss of power during this winter storm. Millions of people without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

When asked if leadership of ERCOT should resign, Gov. Abbott said the company had failed.

"They showed that they were not reliable," Abbott said. "These are experts. These are engineers in the power industry. Government has to rely upon on these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing to begin distributing 60 generators, millions of liters of water and tens of thousands of blankets in Texas, according to a FEMA source. More shipments are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Weathering the storm without power, heat or water

Meanwhile, many Texans are pinning their hopes of staying warm on backup generators and warming centers. Some people have turned to unconventional heat sources such as stoves, grills or gas generators -- which raises the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Harris County, 14 residents have been taken to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning and seven of those were children, according to a tweet from the Cy-Fair Fire Department.

Houston officials said Tuesday a woman and girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after trying to stay warm using a car in a garage.

Water issues have also become widespread as pipes have frozen and power outages hampered water treatment plants. The mayor of Waco urged residents to conserve water after the city's two plants had issues, and McMurry University in Abilene allowed campus residents to use water from the campus swimming pool to flush their toilets.

Sandra Erickson said her home in Friendswood, just outside of Houston, got so cold that the pipes burst, causing the ceiling in three different rooms to collapse.

"This is like a hurricane catastrophe," she told CNN.

San Antonio Fire Department confirmed to CNN that the power outages and cold weather were affecting their ability to put out fires. Fire Department spokesperson Joseph Arrington said that firefighters had to change tactics when responding to a fire at an apartment complex early Wednesday.

"Our normal attack would involve multiple hoses and lots of water on the fire, so we've obviously just had to adjust," he said.

CNN's Keith Allen, Dave Alsup, Alisha Ebrahimji, Matt Egan, Carma Hassan, Dave Hennen, Ashley Killough, Gregory Lemos, Allison Morrow, Paul P. Murphy, Jessica Myers, Andy Rose and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

Why Does Texas Have Its Own Power Grid?

16-02-2021 · Why Does Texas Have Its Own Power Grid? Basically, Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with — you guessed it — the feds. But grid independence has been violated a …

16-02-2021

TODAY IN HOUSTON | Start your day with the Houston Public Media newsletter

This story was originally published by the Texas Tribune on Feb. 8, 2011.

Hey, Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own electric grid?

Texas’ secessionist inclinations do have one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas.

The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of the same name — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT does not actually cover all of Texas. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas. This presumably has to do with the history of various utilities’ service territories and the remoteness of the non-ERCOT locations (for example the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas, notes Kenneth Starcher of the Alternative Energy Institute in Canyon), but Texplainer is still figuring out the particulars on this.

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after Thomas Edison turned on the country’s first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, small generating plants sprouted across Texas, bringing electric light to cities. Later, particularly during the first world war, utilities began to link themselves together. These ties, and the accompanying transmission network, grew further during the second world war, when several Texas utilities joined together to form the Texas Interconnected System, which allowed them to link to the big dams along Texas rivers and also send extra electricity to support the ramped-up factories aiding the war effort.

The Texas Interconnected System — which for a long time was actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern Texas and one for southern Texas — had another priority: staying out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. “Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s,” writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article, “The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight Connection.” (Self-reliance was also made easier in Texas, especially in the early days, because the state has substantial coal, natural gas and oil resources of its own to fuel power plants.)

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. The agency assumed additional responsibilities following electric deregulation in Texas a decade ago. The ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and regulates interstate electric transmission.

Historically, the Texas grid’s independence has been violated a few times. Once was during World War II, when special provisions were made to link Texas to other grids, according to Cudahy. Another episode occurred in 1976 after a Texas utility, for reasons relating to its own regulatory needs, deliberately flipped a switch and sent power to Oklahoma for a few hours. This event, known as the “Midnight Connection,” set off a major legal battle that could have brought Texas under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, but it was ultimately resolved in favor of continued Texan independence.

Even today, ERCOT is also not completely isolated from other grids — as was evident last week when the state imported some power from Mexico during the rolling blackouts. ERCOT has three ties to Mexico and — as an outcome of the “Midnight Connection” battle — it also has two ties to the eastern U.S. grid, though they do not trigger federal regulation for ERCOT. All can move power commercially as well as be used in emergencies, according to ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark. A possible sixth interconnection project, in Rusk County, is being studied, and another ambitious proposal, called Tres Amigas, would link the three big U.S. grids together in New Mexico, though Texas’ top utility regulator has shown little enthusiasm for participating.

Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the feds.

Got a question for Texplainer? E-mail us at [email protected]

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Why does Texas have its own power grid?

16-02-2021 · The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century.

16-02-2021

This Texas Tribune story was originally published in 2011.

AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) — Texas’ secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas.

Why does Texas have its own electric grid?

The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of the same name — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT does not actually cover all of Texas. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas. This presumably has to do with the history of various utilities’ service territories and the remoteness of the non-ERCOT locations (for example the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas, notes Kenneth Starcher of the Alternative Energy Institute in Canyon), but Texplainer is still figuring out the particulars on this.

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after Thomas Edison turned on the country’s first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, small generating plants sprouted across Texas, bringing electric light to cities. Later, particularly during the first world war, utilities began to link themselves together. These ties, and the accompanying transmission network, grew further during the second world war, when several Texas utilities joined together to form the Texas Interconnected System, which allowed them to link to the big dams along Texas rivers and also send extra electricity to support the ramped-up factories aiding the war effort.

The Texas Interconnected System — which for a long time was actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern Texas and one for southern Texas — had another priority: staying out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. “Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s,” writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article, “The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight Connection.” (Self-reliance was also made easier in Texas, especially in the early days, because the state has substantial coal, natural gas and oil resources of its own to fuel power plants.)

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. The agency assumed additional responsibilities following electric deregulation in Texas a decade ago. The ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and regulates interstate electric transmission.

Historically, the Texas grid’s independence has been violated a few times. Once was during World War II, when special provisions were made to link Texas to other grids, according to Cudahy. Another episode occurred in 1976 after a Texas utility, for reasons relating to its own regulatory needs, deliberately flipped a switch and sent power to Oklahoma for a few hours. This event, known as the “Midnight Connection,” set off a major legal battle that could have brought Texas under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, but it was ultimately resolved in favor of continued Texan independence.

Even today, ERCOT is also not completely isolated from other grids — as was evident  when the state imported some power from Mexico during the rolling blackouts of 2011. ERCOT has three ties to Mexico and — as an outcome of the “Midnight Connection” battle — it also has two ties to the eastern U.S. grid, though they do not trigger federal regulation for ERCOT. All can move power commercially as well as be used in emergencies, according to ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark. A possible sixth interconnection project, in Rusk County, is being studied, and another ambitious proposal, called Tres Amigas, would link the three big U.S. grids together in New Mexico, though Texas’ top utility regulator has shown little enthusiasm for participating.

Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the feds.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid?

16-02-2021 · Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid? Basically, Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with — you guessed it — the feds. But grid independence has been violated a few times ...

16-02-2021

TEXAS TRIBUNE - Why does Texas have its own electric grid?

Texas’ secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas.

The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of the same name — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT does not actually cover all of Texas. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas. This presumably has to do with the history of various utilities’ service territories and the remoteness of the non-ERCOT locations (for example the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas, notes Kenneth Starcher of the Alternative Energy Institute in Canyon), but Texplainer is still figuring out the particulars on this.

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after Thomas Edison turned on the country’s first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, small generating plants sprouted across Texas, bringing electric light to cities. Later, particularly during the first world war, utilities began to link themselves together. These ties, and the accompanying transmission network, grew further during the second world war, when several Texas utilities joined together to form the Texas Interconnected System, which allowed them to link to the big dams along Texas rivers and also send extra electricity to support the ramped-up factories aiding the war effort.

The Texas Interconnected System — which for a long time was actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern Texas and one for southern Texas — had another priority: staying out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. “Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s,” writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article, “The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight Connection.” (Self-reliance was also made easier in Texas, especially in the early days, because the state has substantial coal, natural gas and oil resources of its own to fuel power plants.)

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. The agency assumed additional responsibilities following electric deregulation in Texas a decade ago. The ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and regulates interstate electric transmission.

Historically, the Texas grid’s independence has been violated a few times. Once was during World War II, when special provisions were made to link Texas to other grids, according to Cudahy. Another episode occurred in 1976 after a Texas utility, for reasons relating to its own regulatory needs, deliberately flipped a switch and sent power to Oklahoma for a few hours. This event, known as the “Midnight Connection,” set off a major legal battle that could have brought Texas under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, but it was ultimately resolved in favor of continued Texan independence.

Even today, ERCOT is also not completely isolated from other grids — as was evident  when the state imported some power from Mexico during the rolling blackouts of 2011. ERCOT has three ties to Mexico and — as an outcome of the “Midnight Connection” battle — it also has two ties to the eastern U.S. grid, though they do not trigger federal regulation for ERCOT. All can move power commercially as well as be used in emergencies, according to ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark. A possible sixth interconnection project, in Rusk County, is being studied, and another ambitious proposal, called Tres Amigas, would link the three big U.S. grids together in New Mexico, though Texas’ top utility regulator has shown little enthusiasm for participating.

Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the feds.

Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid?

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after …

TEXAS, USA — This story was originally published in 2011. If you're looking for the latest updates on the February 2021 winter storm, head over to the Texas Tribune homepage or follow them on Twitter.

Why does Texas have its own electric grid?

Texas' secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas.

The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of the same name — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT does not actually cover all of Texas. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas. This presumably has to do with the history of various utilities' service territories and the remoteness of the non-ERCOT locations (for example the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to Dallas, notes Kenneth Starcher of the Alternative Energy Institute in Canyon), but Texplainer is still figuring out the particulars on this.

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early last century. In the decades after Thomas Edison turned on the country's first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, small generating plants sprouted across Texas, bringing electric light to cities. Later, particularly during the first world war, utilities began to link themselves together. These ties, and the accompanying transmission network, grew further during the second world war, when several Texas utilities joined together to form the Texas Interconnected System, which allowed them to link to the big dams along Texas rivers and also send extra electricity to support the ramped-up factories aiding the war effort.

The Texas Interconnected System — which for a long time was actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern Texas and one for southern Texas — had another priority: staying out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. "Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s," writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article, "The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight Connection." (Self-reliance was also made easier in Texas, especially in the early days, because the state has substantial coal, natural gas and oil resources of its own to fuel power plants.)

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. The agency assumed additional responsibilities following electric deregulation in Texas a decade ago. The ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and regulates interstate electric transmission.

Historically, the Texas grid's independence has been violated a few times. Once was during World War II, when special provisions were made to link Texas to other grids, according to Cudahy. Another episode occurred in 1976 after a Texas utility, for reasons relating to its own regulatory needs, deliberately flipped a switch and sent power to Oklahoma for a few hours. This event, known as the "Midnight Connection," set off a major legal battle that could have brought Texas under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, but it was ultimately resolved in favor of continued Texan independence.

Even today, ERCOT is also not completely isolated from other grids — as was evident  when the state imported some power from Mexico during the rolling blackouts of 2011. ERCOT has three ties to Mexico and — as an outcome of the "Midnight Connection" battle — it also has two ties to the eastern U.S. grid, though they do not trigger federal regulation for ERCOT. All can move power commercially as well as be used in emergencies, according to ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark. A possible sixth interconnection project, in Rusk County, is being studied, and another ambitious proposal, called Tres Amigas, would link the three big U.S. grids together in New Mexico, though Texas' top utility regulator has shown little enthusiasm for participating.

Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the feds.