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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.

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.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

People also ask
More FAQs for why texas lost power
  • What caused Texas power failure?

    Record cold temperatures plunged Texas into a power crisis last week, with millions in the state losing power. The failure demonstrates the vulnerability of power grids to shifting weather patterns that come with climate change.

    Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

    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.

    2021 Texas power crisis
  • What areas of Texas are without power?

    Millions still don't have power in Texas, and Austin power providers have said outages will continue.Austin Energy said that outages will likely extend into Wednesday.The privately owned Electric Reliability Council of Texas has not provided a clear timeline either.Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

    A deadly winter storm pummeling the country's South and the heartland left millions without power in Texas early Tuesday and spawned a possible tornado that killed at least three people in North Carolina. More freezing weather and dangerous travel conditions were predicted in the coming days.

    The suspected tornado that hit North Carolina's Brunswick County around midnight ripped homes from foundations, snapped trees in half, and injured at least 10 people, the county's emergency services said Tuesday.

    In Texas, two people, one a child, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a car being used for heat, Houston Police said.

    More than 4.4 million people were without power in Texas as of 12:30 p.m. ET, according to poweroutage.us, as record-low temperatures brought a demand for power that the state's electric grid could not keep up with.

    The areas around Galveston and Houston were the hardest hit, according to the outage website.

    1613496188517_n_melvin_brk_texas_weather_210216_1920x1080.jpg

    Snow and freezing rain were expected to persist, raising travel concerns for parts of the eastern Great Lakes to New England on Tuesday. Frigid Arctic air and dangerous wind chills were forecast in the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley through midweek, the National Weather Service said.

    The storm dropped snow and ice from Arkansas to Indiana, and brought record-low temperatures from Oklahoma City to Minnesota's Iron Range, where thermometers dipped to minus 38, the National Weather Service said.

    Texas officials pleaded with residents to stay off the roads, conserve power and seal up drafty windows and doors.

    At least 25 people have died from weather-related causes so far since Thursday, most of them in Texas, as the storm blanketed large swaths of the country.

    NC_txpowerdemand0216_1920x1080.jpg

    In North Carolina's Brunswick County, there were reports of people trapped in homes or feared missing as rescue operations got underway after the possible tornado, emergency management officials said. An estimated 50 homes were affected and a temporary shelter had been set up for the displaced. Power lines were also downed, leaving thousands without electricity, the Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation said.

    "It's something like I have never seen before. A lot of destruction," the county's sheriff, John Ingram, said Tuesday at a news conference. "It's going to be a long recovery process."

    Pedestrians walk on an icy road in East Austin, Texas, on Monday.Montinique Monroe / Getty Images

    There were also fears of power outages and failures of backup generators at public health departments in Texas, where thousands of coronavirus vaccines are being held in cold storage.

    Elsewhere in the state, San Antonio International Airport canceled all flights Tuesday, and the Dallas Stars delayed a National Hockey League game against the Nashville Predators, in an effort to conserve energy.

    The Houston Chronicle was forced to stop printing after its plant lost power at 2 a.m. In a note to subscribers, the newspaper said that didn't happen even when the city was battered by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

    People seeking shelter from below freezing temperatures rest inside a church warming center in Houston on Tuesday.David J. Phillip / AP

    Abilene, a city of about 170,000 residents, shut off its water services as a result of power outages at all three of its water treatment plants, it tweeted.

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    In a bid to save power, officials in Dallas said their skylines would go dark and Kansas City, Missouri, did the same. Kansas City, like cities scattered across the U.S., including in Tennessee and Iowa, were threatened with rolling power outages Monday.

    The Dallas Stars, the city's NHL team, postponed a second consecutive game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday because of the power outages. The NBA announced that the Detroit Pistons at Dallas Mavericks game scheduled for Wednesday was postponed.

    The Pacific Northwest was hammered by a weekend storm and still dealing with lingering problems. Hundreds of thousands of people in Oregon were still without electricity after heavy snow and ice brought down tree branches this weekend and blocked storm drains in Washington state and Idaho, raising concerns about flooding.

    In further unwelcome news for millions without power, more snow and ice was predicted late Tuesday and Wednesday along a storm front reaching from Texas to the Appalachian states. Oklahoma is set to be a likely epicenter for the heaviest accumulations through Tuesday night, the National Weather Service said.

    The storm's trailing cold front is also forecast to trigger showers and thunderstorms over South Florida, where there is some risk of flash flooding.

    The parts of Texas not on its ERCOT power grid appear to ...
  • Why is Texas on its own electric grid?

    Unlike wind and solar, coal and nuclear plants operate 24/7; that’s why they’re called base-load power sources ... for their resiliency attributes. Texas is a case in point. Because the state operates its own grid (ERCOT) and has limited interconnects ...
    To keep up with growth, Texas needs more big, baseload electric power …
  • Is Texas still having power outages?

    While about 25,000 people were without power in the North Texas area due to local outages, Gov. Greg Abbott said the power grid has remained resilient and efficient, so far. "The power grid is performing very well at this time," Abbott said. Demand for power in Texas has not exceeded ERCOT's supply of energy.

    While power has been restored for millions of Texans who had been without in the bitter cold, the nightmare of the devastating winter storm isn't over.

    Millions don't have safe water at home, and residents looking for groceries or bottled water said they arrived to stores with bare shelves and long lines.

    The latest on the storm:

    • President Joe Biden said Friday that he expects to sign federal disaster aid for Texas once the governor's request reaches his desk and that he planned to visit Texas next week if it was not "a burden."
    • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees about 90 percent of the state's energy production, said that emergency conditions were expected to end later Friday after no more outages had been needed Thursday night.
    • By Friday morning, more than half a million people in the United States did not have electricity — Texas topped the list with less than 200,000 power outages, according to tracking website poweroutage.us.
    • In Texas, more than 14 million people were under boil water orders in the wake of a winter storm that froze and burst pipes, creating chaos for water treatment facilities.
    • Memphis International Airport was forced to temporarily close its passenger terminal and cancel all flights because of water pressure issues.
    • Since Thursday, at least 46 deaths from 10 states have been weather-related, the majority in Texas.

    When firefighters arrived at a fire at a San Antonio-area apartment building Thursday, their efforts were hampered by frozen hydrants. Crews had to shuttle in water to try to control the blaze, which displaced dozens.

    Galv-TEXAS.jpg

    The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT — which oversees about 90 percent of the state's energy production — said Friday that emergency conditions are expected to end because no more outages had been needed Thursday night.

    “There is enough generation on the electric system to allow us to begin to return to more normal operating conditions,” director Dan Woodfin said in a statement.

    More than 14 million people were under orders Friday to boil tap water in the wake of the punishing winter weather that began a week ago and has paralyzed the state, caused frozen and burst water mains and residential pipes, and created chaos for water treatment facilities, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

    The state is working with the federal government to bring in mobile labs to help do the tests needed to lift those advisories.

    President Joe Biden said Friday that he expects to sign federal disaster aid for Texas once the governor's request reaches his desk and that could visit Texas next week if it didn't create "a burden."

    He previously offered support and resources for the state.

    "Tonight, I called Governor Greg Abbott to discuss the ongoing situation in Texas and identify ways we can support the state’s recovery from this storm. I made clear to the Governor that I’ll work relentlessly to get his state what they need," Biden tweeted Thursday.

    Abbott said he would ask Texas lawmakers to examine the state's energy pricing system as a possible culprit in widespread blackouts.

    "We want to make sure that we have ongoing, adequate supplies of power at a price that makes sense," he said at a Friday news conference. "And that pricing model may have affected the ability to generate power. That’s something that we need to get the to bottom of."

    People in Texas have reported stripped-bare store shelves and long lines.

    Princess Tensley of Houston had no water service and intermittent power. Her cousin's family is also living in the home because they had no power or water, and they tried to buy supplies at stores Thursday but had no luck.

    "We only have like two cases of water left. ... So, we're trying to divide it between two families, and it's really hard," Tensley said. "We don't know what the next day is going to look like — and that's the scary part."

    Victor Hernandez, left, and Luis Martinez fill their water containers with a hose from a spigot in Haden Park, in Houston. Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle via AP

    The city of Houston's office of emergency management tweeted early Friday that crews were working throughout the night to position pallets of water bottles for mass distribution at Delmar Stadium.

    During an interview with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle on Friday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the number of people affected by power outages in the state's largest city had dropped from 1.4 million to just under 10,000.

    For those without service, it is "still very real for them and very tough for them," he said.

    Turner, a Democrat, added that he hasn't spoken to Abbott, a Republican, since the deadly winter storm hit the state earlier this week.

    “I have not talked to the governor at any time during this crisis,” Turner said. “This is an opportunity, the time for us to rally, to be supportive of one another, and we're gonna stay with it until we come through this crisis."

    Texas congressional members complained in a news conference organized by the state Democratic Party that Abbott had not reached out to them for their help in getting resources to Texas, saying that added up to a failure to use all available resources to assist desperate residents.

    “Every time there is a major disaster in Texas, Greg Abbott goes into hiding and he did it again this time,” Castro said during a Texas Democratic Party news conference Friday.

    “He had sent 1,000 National Guard folks down to the border and bragged about that all over his political pages and his website,” Castro said referring to Abbott’s use of guard troops on the Texas-Mexico border. “He sent 500 DPS (Department of Public Safety) troopers in the same way to the border, but hasn’t shown the same effort to mobilize in this disaster.”

    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Marc Veasey, both who are Black and Democrat, were on the virtual call.

    "We gave water to really desperate people. They were lined up to the darkness of the night. Late in the night they were coming to get water," Jackson Lee said. "A call, a conference call by the chief of the state could have added much help to desperate cities and counties. I don't think one of us has spoken to the governor in this crisis."

    Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson told NBC's "TODAY" show Friday that although the rolling blackouts are over, the city will still have to address water supply issues and property damage.

    “We have a long way to go in getting out of this, and our problems are just sort of beginning,” he said.

    Johnson warned there would be "extensive water damage" when residents returned to their homes and called on the federal government to provide financial assistance.

    Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the show earlier Friday that “it feels like it’s just one thing after another after another."

    “We were just not prepared for these cold temperatures,” he said. “We have a deregulated power system in the state, and it doesn’t work.”

    Adler said there had been some power issues and water pressure issues at some Austin hospitals.

    “It is constant hands on crews working in order to keep the hospitals open and working,” he added.

    1613737044769_tdy_news_7a_guth_mayor_austin_210219_1920x1080.jpg

    Austin cook Cesar Urías, 40, helped feed his community with ingredients from a restaurant that gave away food after losing power. Urías, who had not lost power, used the chicken and bread for sandwiches, which he then offered through a Facebook post and later delivered.

    “I had 12 families yesterday that had three to seven children. Some were in their cars. It was very awful,” Urías said. The cook said he had hoped to make more, but ended up joining other Austin residents scrounging for slim pickings on grocery and convenience store shelves.

    nn_sgo_tx_power_grid_nationwide_infrastructure_issues_210218_1920x1080.jpg

    At points this week, more than 4 million people were without power — some for days. On Friday, less than 155,000 customers in Texas were still without electricity, according to tracking website poweroutage.us.

    "We are not yet out of this, but we're closer to this challenge being behind us," Abbott said Thursday.

    No residences were without electricity Thursday because of a lack of power generation, and "every available repair truck in Texas" has been dispatched to repair the downed lines and other issues causing continuing outages, the governor said.

    Winter storms have left part of other states powerless, as well: Mississippi had more than 91,000 customers out and Louisiana more than 58,000.

    Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves compared the damage to a hurricane.

    "Unlike a hurricane or tornado, where the event comes furiously and then ends, this has been a slow-moving disaster. We have been in response mode, not recovery, constantly," Reeves tweeted Thursday.

    In Tennessee, Memphis International Airport said it was forced to temporarily close its passenger terminal because of water pressure issues. Airlines have canceled all passenger flights for Friday, the airportsaid in a statement on its website.

    "We will not open until at least noon tomorrow, but it could be later," airport spokesman Glen Thomas said by email Friday. "We are working on possible short-term portable restroom solutions that would help us to re-open the airport."

    In Oregon, around 73,000 customers were without power Thursday night after last week's storms, utility Portland General Electric said. It expected all but 15,000 to be restored by Friday night.

    Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

    More than 245,000 people in Louisiana were affected by dozens of water outages, Gov. John Bel Edwards said. Boil water advisories affected around 1 million, he said.

    In Vidalia in northeast Louisiana, Betsy Sawyer's water was cut off for part of Thursday, and she hadn't had electricity since Wednesday. She filled a bathtub with water to prepare.

    "Lots of trees down,” she told The Associated Press. “Everybody’s scrambling, just doing their best.”

    1613672323589_n_mtpd_clip_antonia_210218_1920x1080.jpg

    Temperatures in Fort Worth, Texas, and Houston and other parts of the state are forecast to be freezing in the overnight hours until Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. That is expected to cause ice and snow that melts during the day to refreeze and create slick roads.

    A warming trend was expected to bring Houston into the mid-60s by Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said Friday.

    "We can see light at the end of the tunnel," the weather service office in Dickinson, Texas, tweeted. "One more night of below freezing temperatures at some areas, then a warm up is expected into the weekend.

    The winter weather has played a role in at least 24 deaths in Texas, including six people who died in a massive pileup on a highway in Fort Worth last week. Two others died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Houston home where people had been using a car for warmth because there was no heat.

    In Arkansas, a 69-year-old man was found dead earlier this week after falling into a frozen pond while trying to rescue a calf.

    In Louisiana, three people died, including a 50-year-old man who slipped on ice in Lafayette Parish and hit his head on Monday, according to the state health department. Three people died in crashes on ice- and snow-covered roads in Kentucky, officials said.

    And in Kentucky, two women died from hypothermia after their residences lost power, according to Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond. Mabel Webb's building was without power for two to three days before maintenance workers found the 77-year-old woman, he said. The other victim was described as an 86-year-old woman who had an arrhythmia and went into cardiac arrest, officials said.

    Power comes back for most in Texas, but other problems pile up
Understanding Texas’ energy grid failure

Record cold temperatures plunged Texas into a power crisis last week, with millions in the state losing power. The failure demonstrates the vulnerability of power grids to shifting weather patterns that come with climate change. However, the situation in Texas was made more complex by the fact that it is the only state in the country with its own power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (two …

Q: Broadly speaking, why is the Texas energy grid struggling?

The widespread winter storm produced low temperatures across the region. This is an unusual event, much worse than the worst case that was considered in recent prior planning. The result was loss of power plants, loss of natural gas supply, felled power transmission lines, damaged gas pipelines, damage to water systems, and so on, across the board. There was a loss of more than 50 percent of generation capacity at the same moment as electric power demand surged above the predicted peak forecast.

Power systems are designed to share across the transmission grid in order to provide nearly instantaneous support to one part when another location is in trouble. When the problem is large enough or everywhere is in trouble, the same instantaneous response can propagate the damage and produce a total system failure. The standard policy is to institute controlled “rolling blackouts” that disconnect some load to prevent complete system collapse. This was the response in Texas, and it accomplished this important objective of preventing an even worse catastrophe. In addition, the rules produced much higher prices and provided a powerful incentive to reduce remaining demand and get the generating plants back online. All this was necessary under the circumstances.

Q: How would you answer critics of the exorbitant energy bills that some customers are now receiving?

The pain is severe, for both those facing the higher bills and even more for those who lost their power. The high bills go to two different groups. First, those energy intermediaries that sold hedging contracts received an agreed upon price that has probably been higher than market conditions until the crisis, and they are like any insurance provider who is responsible for making good on the promise of the contract price. Second, the minority of customers who chose not to hedge and enjoyed lower prices until the crisis, and who also chose to continue consuming electricity even when others were being curtailed, now face the higher bills. The curtailed customers who were selected for the rolling blackouts were by definition not consuming power and would not see higher bills for the curtailed period, although some probably would have preferred to pay and not be curtailed.

Q: Why is Texas the only state with its own power grid?

There is a long history here of the state wanting full control over its own destiny. The rules are complex, but Texas has weak transmission ties to the rest of the North American grid and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Texas regulators but (largely) not to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Even the limited ties were not much help in the current crisis because other areas were also in rolling blackout conditions on a smaller scale and they did not have excess power to willingly share with Texas.

Q: What measure might have made Texas’ energy grid less vulnerable, and how can Texas avoid another crisis like this in the future?

As in the past, there will be a full post-mortem analysis. However, it is hard to conceive of a planning mechanism that would have provided full protection against an event that was much worse than the worst case envisioned. And as some important figures in the region have already said, the costs of such protection paid every year might be seen as too high a cost to pay to avoid such a rare outcome. 

Q: What role, if any, does the use of renewable energy play in this crisis? And what role can it play in solving it?

Renewable energy was part of the Texas energy supply. Some of it still worked, and some wind turbines were frozen or solar panels were covered in snow and unable to help. But the discussion about renewable energy is a distraction given the scale and scope of the current problem. The discussion for the future with increased renewable energy should await the post-mortem. The design of the system with increasing renewables was an active focus of policy discussion before this event, and this discussion will be continuing.

Q: What lessons can we learn from this event?

There will be many further analyses to provide guidance for the future. It will be important to avoid jumping to conclusions and learning the wrong lessons.

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.”

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.

How Texas’ Power Generation Failed During the Storm, in ...

19-02-2021 · Texas’ Power Generation Took a Hit During the Storm. Natural Gas Was Hit Hardest. Power generation in Texas by fuel source. 40,000 megawatt hours. Natural gas power, the state’s top source of ...

19-02-2021

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

The state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit.

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Why a predictable cold snap crippled the Texas power grid ...

21-02-2021 · Why a predictable cold snap crippled the Texas power grid. By Tim McLaughlin, Stephanie Kelly. 10 Min Read (This February 20 story refiles to fix reference to celsius temperature in fourth graph ...

21-02-2021

By Tim McLaughlin, Stephanie Kelly

(This February 20 story refiles to fix reference to celsius temperature in fourth graph from bottom)

FILE PHOTO: An electrical substation is seen after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Texas, U.S. February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Go Nakamura/File Photo

(Reuters) - As Texans cranked up their heaters early Monday to combat plunging temperatures, a record surge of electricity demand set off a disastrous chain reaction in the state’s power grid.

Wind turbines in the state’s northern Panhandle locked up. Natural gas plants shut down when frozen pipes and components shut off fuel flow. A South Texas nuclear reactor went dark after a five-foot section of uninsulated pipe seized up. Power outages quickly spread statewide - leaving millions shivering in their homes for days, with deadly consequences.

It could have been far worse: Before dawn on Monday, the state’s grid operator was “seconds and minutes” away from an uncontrolled blackout for its 26 million customers, its CEO has said. Such a collapse occurs when operators lose the ability to manage the crisis through rolling blackouts; in such cases, it can take weeks or months to fully restore power to customers.

Monday was one of the state’s coldest days in more than a century - but the unprecedented power crisis was hardly unpredictable after Texas had experienced a similar, though less severe, disruption during a 2011 cold snap. Still, Texas power producers failed to adequately winter-proof their systems. And the state’s grid operator underestimated its need for reserve power capacity before the crisis, then moved too slowly to tell utilities to institute rolling blackouts to protect against a grid meltdown, energy analysts, traders and economists said.

Early signs of trouble came long before the forced outages. Two days earlier, for example, the grid suddenly lost 539 megawatts (MW) of power, or enough electricity for nearly 108,000 homes, according to operational messages disclosed by the state’s primary grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

The crisis stemmed from a unique confluence of weaknesses in the state’s power system.

Texas is the only state in the continental United States with an independent and isolated grid. That allows the state to avoid federal regulation - but also severely limits its ability to draw emergency power from other grids. ERCOT also operates the only major U.S. grid that does not have a capacity market - a system that provides payments to operators to be on standby to supply power during severe weather events.

After more than 3 million ERCOT customers lost power in a February 2011 freeze, federal regulators recommended that ERCOT prepare for winter with the same urgency as it does the peak summer season. They also said that, while ERCOT’s reserve power capacity looked good on paper, it did not take into account that many generation units could get knocked offline by freezing weather.

“There were prior severe cold weather events in the Southwest in 1983, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2010,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp staff summarized after investigating the state’s 2011 rolling blackouts. “Extensive generator failures overwhelmed ERCOT’s reserves, which eventually dropped below the level of safe operation.”

ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko did not comment in detail about the causes of the power crisis but said the grid’s leadership plans to re-evaluate the assumptions that go into its forecasts.

The freeze was easy to see coming, said Jay Apt, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.

“When I read that this was a black-swan event, I just have to wonder whether the folks who are saying that have been in this business long enough that they forgot everything, or just came into it,” Apt said. “People need to recognize that this sort of weather is pretty common.”

This week’s cold snap left 4.5 million ERCOT customers without power. More than 14.5 million Texans endured a related water-supply crisis as pipes froze and burst. About 65,000 customers remained without power as of Saturday afternoon, even as temperatures started to rise, according to website PowerOutage.US.

State health officials have linked more than two dozen deaths to the power crisis. Some died from hypothermia or possible carbon monoxide poisoning caused by portable generators running in basements and garages without enough ventilation. Officials say they suspect the death count will rise as more bodies are discovered.

THIN POWER RESERVE

In the central Texas city of Austin, the state capital, the minimum February temperature usually falls between 42 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 9 degrees Celsius). This past week, temperatures fell as low as 6 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degrees Celsius).

In November, ERCOT assured that the grid was prepared to handle such a dire scenario.

“We studied a range of potential risks under both normal and extreme conditions, and believe there is sufficient generation to adequately serve our customers,” said ERCOT’s manager of resource adequacy, Pete Warnken, in a report that month.

Warnken could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Under normal winter conditions, ERCOT forecast it would have about 16,200 MW of power reserves. But under extreme conditions, it predicted a reserve cushion of only about 1,350 MW. That assumed only 23,500 MW of generation outages. During the peak of this week’s crisis, more than 30,000 MW was forced off the grid.

Other U.S. grid operators maintain a capacity market to supply extra power in extreme conditions - paying operators on an ongoing basis, whether they produce power or not. Capacity market auctions determine, three years in advance, the price that power generators receive in exchange for being on emergency standby.

Instead, ERCOT relies on a wholesale electricity market, where free market pricing provides incentives for generators to provide daily power and to make investments to ensure reliability in peak periods, according to economists. The system relied on the theory that power plants should make high profits when energy demand and prices soar - providing them ample money to make investments in, for example, winterization. The Texas legislature restructured the state’s electric market in 1999.

LOOMING CRISIS

Since 2010, ERCOT’s reserve margin - the buffer between generation capacity versus forecasted demand - has dropped to about 10% from about 20%. This has put pressure on generators during demand spikes, making the grid less flexible, according to North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit regulator.

That thin margin for error set off alarms early Monday morning among energy traders and analysts as they watched a sudden drop in the electrical frequency of the Texas grid. One analyst compared it to watching the pulse of a hospital patient drop to life-threatening levels.

Too much of a drop is catastrophic because it would trigger automatic relay switches to disconnect power sources from the grid, setting off uncontrolled blackouts statewide. Dan Jones, an energy analyst at Monterey LLC, watched from his home office in Delaware as the grid’s frequency dropped quickly toward the point that would trigger the automatic shutdowns.

“If you’re not in control, and you are letting the equipment do it, that’s just chaos,” Jones said.

By Sunday afternoon about 3:15 p.m. (CST), ERCOT’s control room signaled it had run out of options to boost electric generation to match the soaring demand. Operators issued a warning that there was “no market solution” for the projected shortage, according to control room messages published by ERCOT on its website.

Adam Sinn, president of Houston-based energy trading firm Aspire Commodities, said ERCOT waited far too long to start telling utilities to cut customers’ power to guard against a grid meltdown. The problems, he said, were readily apparent several days before Monday.

“ERCOT was letting the system get weaker and weaker and weaker,” Sinn said in an interview. “I was thinking: Holy shit, what is this grid operator doing? He has to cut load.”

Sinn said he started texting his friends on Sunday night, warning them to expect widespread outages.

‘SECONDS AND MINUTES’

Early Monday morning, one of the largest sources of electricity in the state - the unit 1 reactor at the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station - stopped producing power after the small section of pipe froze in temperatures that averaged 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). The grid lost access to 1,350 MW of nuclear power - enough to power about 270,000 homes - after automatic sensors detected the frozen pipe and protectively shut down the reactor, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

About 2:30 a.m. (CST), the South Plains Electric Cooperative in Lubbock said it received a phone call from ERCOT to cut power to its customers. Inside the ERCOT control room, staff members scrambled to call utilities and cooperatives statewide to tell them to do the same, according to operational messages disclosed by the grid operator.

Three days later, ERCOT Chief Executive Bill Magness acknowledged that the grid operator had only narrowly avoided the calamity of uncontrolled blackouts.

“If we hadn’t taken action,” he said on Thursday, “it was seconds and minutes (away), given the amount of generation that was coming off the system at the same time that the demand was still going up.”

Why Texas Lost Power

21-02-2021 · Debate continues over the cause of the extended power cuts in Texas last week. Predictably, party affiliation colors views. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said, ““the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Two former Energy Secretaries, Rick Perry and Dan Brouillette blamed frozen wind turbines, and over-investment in renewables at the expense of …

21-02-2021

Debate continues over the cause of the extended power cuts in Texas last week. Predictably, party affiliation colors views. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said, ““the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Two former Energy Secretaries, Rick Perry and Dan Brouillette blamed frozen wind turbines, and over-investment in renewables at the expense of ensuring more robust infrastructure.

It’s true that the extreme cold curtailed output from coal and gas power plants and even one nuclear facility. It’s also true that windpower works in cold northern latitudes. The state’s energy infrastructure just wasn’t prepared for such low temperatures. And the Texan power market, overseen by ERCOT, is a free-wheeling bazaar with hundreds of power providers all vying for business. Households routinely switch from one provider to another. As a result, the average retail price of electricity in Texas is 82% of the national average. But the market structure clearly doesn’t value 100% reliability.

Both of these problems – winterizing equipment and altering market incentives for power providers, can be fixed.

Texas generated 17% of its electricity from wind in 2019 (most recent figures available). They are easily the leading state. At 83 Gigawatt Hours (GWh), they are 28% of the U.S. total and well ahead of #2, Oklahoma at 29 GWh. Wind power in Texas has been widely regarded as a success.

Was over-reliance on windpower to blame, as Republican politicians claim? Or did the cold weather show no favorites, with natural gas, coal and nuclear plants all going offline as well?

Perhaps the chart showing power generation by source can be interpreted to favor either side, but an objective view would surely conclude that natural gas generation soared when needed, uniquely among all power sources albeit not by enough to avoid power cuts. Wind power became negligible. It’s hard to argue that more wind power would have solved this problem.

Climate extremists will argue that more extreme weather is an early warning of the adverse effects of global warming. This alone adds urgency to the energy transition. But if Texas had already converted their power generation to be 100% emission-free, that would remove around 200 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions, 0.5% of the total emitted worldwide annually. The weather in Texas wouldn’t change. Advocates would argue that such leadership might induce behavior elsewhere. It would need to be in China and other emerging countries to make a difference.

In How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates offers a pragmatic view loaded with useful facts. We’ll be writing a review soon, but he notes the low power density of wind, which produces 1-2 watts of power per square meter. Solar is 5-10, while fossil fuels are 500-10,000. Wind takes up a lot of room.

It may simply be coincidence, but following California’s heatwave-induced blackouts last year (see California Dreamin’ of Reliable Power), two big states with a heavy reliance on renewables have suffered power outages. Since it’s not always sunny and windy, solar and wind have their place but are unwise beyond a certain threshold.

Both states could have redirected capital outlays from renewables to making their existing power supply and grid more reliable. In this way, environmental extremists’ obsession with growing unreliable sources of energy contributed to the blackouts. Gates argues that intermittency limits their ability to provide a significant portion of our power.

Texas is 26% renewables and California 29%. Few states should want to emulate them.

The deception of climate extremists is that renewables are cheaper and will create jobs. If that was true, the oil and gas industry wouldn’t exist. Energy today is cheap, perhaps unsustainably so. Technologies already exist to capture CO2 emitted from the manufacture of steel and cement, as well as from electricity generation. Implementing them will cost money and raise prices, but that should be no surprise.

A serious effort to reduce emissions will impose regulations or additional costs on fossil fuel emissions, which will create the necessary incentives to install equipment that curbs emissions, just as coal plants are required to do for the sulfur they emit. Natural gas will fare well, since it’s cheap, not intermittent and relatively clean burning. That’s why long term forecasts of energy use show natural gas enjoying continued growth.

We are invested in all the components of the American Energy Independence Index via the ETF that seeks to track its performance.

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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 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 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

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

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]

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

The parts of Texas not on its ERCOT power grid appear to ...

Texas is nearing the end of what Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called "a once-in-every-120-year cold front," but that doesn't entirely explain why more than a million households still had no electricity early Thursday, after three full days of below-freezing temperatures. Plenty of places in the world keep their power on in prolonged arctic weather, and so did parts of Texas.

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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?

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 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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No, frozen wind turbines aren’t to blame for Texas’ power ...

17-02-2021 · No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages. Lost wind power was expected to be a fraction of winter generation. All sources — from natural gas, to nuclear, to ...

17-02-2021

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Frozen wind turbines in Texas caused some conservative state politicians to declare Tuesday that the state was relying too much on renewable energy. But in reality, the wind power was expected to make up only a fraction of what the state had planned for during the winter.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas projected that 80% of the grid's winter capacity, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power.

An official with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Tuesday afternoon that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation, mostly wind generation, were offline. Nearly double that, 30 gigawatts, had been lost from thermal sources, which includes gas, coal and nuclear energy.

By Wednesday, those numbers had changed as more operators struggled to operate in the cold: 45 gigawatts total were offline, with 28 gigawats from thermal sources and 18 gigawatts from renewable sources, ERCOT officials said.

“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

While Webber said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis, the natural gas industry is most notably producing significantly less power than normal.

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

Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT, echoed that sentiment Tuesday.

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

Still, some have focused their blame on wind power.

“This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source,” U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “When weather conditions get bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn’t there when you need it.”

He went on to note the shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Bay City because of the cold and finally got to what energy experts say is the biggest culprit, writing, “Low Supply of Natural Gas: ERCOT planned on 67GW from natural gas/coal, but could only get 43GW of it online. We didn’t run out of natural gas, but we ran out of the ability to get natural gas. Pipelines in Texas don’t use cold insulation —so things were freezing.”

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, known for his right-wing Facebook posts that have, in the past, spread misinformation and amplified conspiracy theories, also posted an unvarnished view of wind energy on Facebook: “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas."

In another post, Miller was even more forthright, but also misleading. “Insult added to injury: Those ugly wind turbines out there are among the main reasons we are experiencing electricity blackouts,” he wrote. “Isn’t that ironic? ... So much for the unsightly and unproductive, energy-robbing Obama Monuments. At least they show us where idiots live.”

While wind power skeptics claimed the week’s freeze means wind power can’t be relied upon, wind turbines — like natural gas plants — can be “winterized,” or modified to operate during very low temperatures. Experts say that many of Texas’ power generators have not made those investments necessary to prevent disruptions to equipment since the state does not regularly experience extreme winter storms.

It’s estimated that of the grid’s total winter capacity, about 80% of it, 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.

Production of natural gas in the state has plunged due to the freezing conditions, 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 oil and natural gas-producing Permian Basin in West Texas to major demand centers like Houston and Dallas.

Gov. Greg Abbott specified that fossil fuel sources were contributing to the problems with the grid when describing the situation Monday afternoon.

“The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen. This includes the natural gas & coal generators,” he wrote in a tweet.

Heather Zichal, CEO of the industry group the American Clean Power Association, said opponents of renewable energy were trying to distract from the failures elsewhere in the system and slow the “transition to a clean energy future.”

“It is disgraceful to see the longtime antagonists of clean power — who attack it whether it is raining, snowing or the sun is shining — engaging in a politically opportunistic charade, misleading Americans to promote an agenda that has nothing to do with restoring power to Texas communities,” she said.

Matthew Watkins contributed reporting.

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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.

EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond

20-04-2021 · 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 ...

20-04-2021

DALLAS (AP) — 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.

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
©2021 - Bluefire Studios LLC

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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.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news

"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 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.

What Went Wrong With Texas' Power Failure And How To Fix ...

19-02-2021 · Texas, the energy capital of the country, does not seem to be able to supply the power needed in severe weather. Here we would like to present our perspectives in simple non-technical terms on what happened, why did it happen and what could be done to prevent it from happening again. Our goal is to stimulate conversations among citizens ...

19-02-2021
eletric service trucks lined up at power lines in snow
Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on Feb. 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas.

Millions of Texans have experienced power outages at a time when electricity seems to be most needed, during the worst winter storm in decades. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas and utility engineers around the state are working around the clock to fix the problem, but it still remains to be seen when power will be restored to all customers. Texas, the energy capital of the country, does not seem to be able to supply the power needed in severe weather.

Here we would like to present our perspectives in simple non-technical terms on what happened, why did it happen and what could be done to prevent it from happening again. Our goal is to stimulate conversations among citizens, utilities, system operators, regulatory bodies and academia so that this experience will serve as a wake-up call to address the criticality of our energy infrastructure as we make progress toward a more resilient and sustainable future.

What Happened?

Unprecedented winter storms and frigid temperatures hit across the state beginning on Sunday, causing more than 30 gigawatts of generation capacity to be taken off-line. On the demand side, due to this cold weather, the electric load hit a record of more than 69GW on that night. In response to this combination of historically high demand and unprecedented shortage of power supply, ERCOT initiated “Energy Emergency Alert 3” which ordered transmission companies to begin rotating outages across the state. Meanwhile, skyrocketing demand for natural gas to heat homes in the frigid conditions meant the already stretched supply of gas available for electricity generation was even further compromised.

Why did this happen in Texas, often touted as the energy capital of the country (if not the world)? While final answers await a comprehensive investigation, several key factors may have contributed to this historic power outage.

First, unlike the interconnected regional grids that serve most of the rest of the country, Texas’s ERCOT grid essentially stands on its own. This limits power import and export during extreme situations. When states like Minnesota or California have extreme weather conditions, they can draw upon inter-state power transmission lines to get power from the interconnection. The Texas grid is largely an isolated grid from the eastern and western interconnections that serve the rest of the country.

Second, the massive natural gas and wind generation infrastructure in Texas is not ready for such a winter storm. Many turbines were shut down due to the freezing weather. Equipping these wind turbines with anti-freezing technologies is doable, but will require additional investments.

Third, so called “demand response,” the synchronization mechanism of demand and supply, which is a smart grid technology to extract flexibility at the customer end, is still in a nascent stage here. Other than urging customers to practice voluntary energy conservation, currently there are very few organized technology and business mechanisms to enable load-serving entities to reduce demand at peak periods to manageable levels. This could be automatically done at the customer end by prioritizing essential services such as lighting over non-essential services such as laundry.

How It Can Be Fixed

While our state is still in the midst of this immediate crisis, we would like to offer a few strategic, actionable items for the state and for Texans. Resiliency will need to be on top of every decision maker’s mind. In particular, to better prepare the Texas grid for future extreme events, we recommend the following actions.

  • We need to winterize wind turbines and other generating infrastructure for extreme conditions.
  • We should invest in additional High Voltage DC lines to connect ERCOT with both Eastern and Western interconnections, so that we can draw upon imports/exports when the supply of electricity becomes more volatile.
  • We need the regulatory and market design to scale up implementation of demand response. The necessary technologies, including smart meters on most of our houses, are already there. What is missing is the proper market mechanics, such as proper crediting of demand contribution, and the political will to promote wide adoption.
  • Last but not least, just as we have developed strategic oil reserves, it is high time to think about strategic energy storage reserves. Electric energy storage would go a long way during this time to minimize hardship for millions of Texans. Much research and innovation will be needed to fully develop the potential of energy storage at grid scale.

While it is cold comfort in the middle of a crisis, what we are experiencing now are the growing pains of the transition to new technologies and new energy resources. However, with actions such as those above, we will be better prepared for whatever Nature may throw at us in the future.

Xie is a Professor, Chancellor EDGES Fellow, and Presidential Impact Fellow in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M. Barteau is Charles D. Holland ’53 Chair Professor, Chemical Engineering and Department of Chemistry, and Vice President for Research at Texas A&M University. Singh is Irma Runyon Chair Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M. Pistikopoulos is Dow Chemical Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of Texas A&M Energy Institute.

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. 

Why Texas Lost Power

Why Texas Lost Power. Debate continues over the cause of the extended power cuts in Texas last week. Predictably, party affiliation colors views. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said, ““the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Two former Energy Secretaries, Rick Perry and Dan Brouillette blamed frozen ...

Debate continues over the cause of the extended power cuts in Texas last week. Predictably, party affiliation colors views. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said, ““the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Two former Energy Secretaries, Rick Perry and Dan Brouillette blamed frozen wind turbines, and over-investment in renewables at the expense of ensuring more robust infrastructure.

It’s true that the extreme cold curtailed output from coal and gas power plants and even one nuclear facility. It’s also true that windpower works in cold northern latitudes. The state’s energy infrastructure just wasn’t prepared for such low temperatures. And the Texan power market, overseen by ERCOT, is a free-wheeling bazaar with hundreds of power providers all vying for business. Households routinely switch from one provider to another. As a result, the average retail price of electricity in Texas is 82% of the national average. But the market structure clearly doesn’t value 100% reliability.

Both of these problems – winterizing equipment and altering market incentives for power providers, can be fixed.

Texas generated 17% of its electricity from wind in 2019 (most recent figures available). They are easily the leading state. At 83 Gigawatt Hours (GWh), they are 28% of the U.S. total and well ahead of #2, Oklahoma at 29 GWh. Wind power in Texas has been widely regarded as a success.

Was over-reliance on windpower to blame, as Republican politicians claim? Or did the cold weather show no favorites, with natural gas, coal and nuclear plants all going offline as well?

Perhaps the chart showing power generation by source can be interpreted to favor either side, but an objective view would surely conclude that natural gas generation soared when needed, uniquely among all power sources albeit not by enough to avoid power cuts. Wind power became negligible. It’s hard to argue that more wind power would have solved this problem.

Climate extremists will argue that more extreme weather is an early warning of the adverse effects of global warming. This alone adds urgency to the energy transition. But if Texas had already converted their power generation to be 100% emission-free, that would remove around 200 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions, 0.5% of the total emitted worldwide annually. The weather in Texas wouldn’t change. Advocates would argue that such leadership might induce behavior elsewhere. It would need to be in China and other emerging countries to make a difference.

In How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates offers a pragmatic view loaded with useful facts. We’ll be writing a review soon, but he notes the low power density of wind, which produces 1-2 watts of power per square meter. Solar is 5-10, while fossil fuels are 500-10,000. Wind takes up a lot of room.

It may simply be coincidence, but following California’s heatwave-induced blackouts last year (see California Dreamin’ of Reliable Power), two big states with a heavy reliance on renewables have suffered power outages. Since it’s not always sunny and windy, solar and wind have their place but are unwise beyond a certain threshold.

Both states could have redirected capital outlays from renewables to making their existing power supply and grid more reliable. In this way, environmental extremists’ obsession with growing unreliable sources of energy contributed to the blackouts. Gates argues that intermittency limits their ability to provide a significant portion of our power.

Texas is 26% renewables and California 29%. Few states should want to emulate them.

The deception of climate extremists is that renewables are cheaper and will create jobs. If that was true, the oil and gas industry wouldn’t exist. Energy today is cheap, perhaps unsustainably so. Technologies already exist to capture CO2 emitted from the manufacture of steel and cement, as well as from electricity generation. Implementing them will cost money and raise prices, but that should be no surprise.

A serious effort to reduce emissions will impose regulations or additional costs on fossil fuel emissions, which will create the necessary incentives to install equipment that curbs emissions, just as coal plants are required to do for the sulfur they emit. Natural gas will fare well, since it’s cheap, not intermittent and relatively clean burning. That’s why long term forecasts of energy use show natural gas enjoying continued growth.

We are invested in all the components of the American Energy Independence Index via the ETF that seeks to track its performance.

Why the massive power outages in Texas are so much worse ...

19-02-2021 · 1 of 4. People wait in line at a mall to get inside an H-E-B supermarket in Round Rock, Texas, on February 16, 2021. Millions were left without power as a deadly winter storm gripped the southern ...

19-02-2021

People wait in line at a mall to get inside an H-E-B supermarket in Round Rock, Texas, on February 16, 2021. Millions were left without power as a deadly winter storm gripped the southern and central United States Tuesday. Hardest hit was Texas, where freezing conditions prompted utility companies to implement rotating blackouts to stop the power grid being overloaded by the surge in demand.
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People wait in line at a mall to get inside an H-E-B supermarket in Round Rock, Texas, on February 16, 2021. Millions were left without power as a deadly winter storm gripped the southern and central United States Tuesday. Hardest hit was Texas, where freezing conditions prompted utility companies to implement rotating blackouts to stop the power grid being overloaded by the surge in demand.

SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP via Getty ImagesShow MoreShow Less
Alvin DeCuier, left, watches as his wife Tamaka Nickson carries their daughter Aayden, 3, to their car to leave their apartment Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, at Cuney Homes in Houston. He said their family had been without power since yesterday, and that they all slept in one bed to stay warm last night, as a winter storm hit the Houston area.
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Alvin DeCuier, left, watches as his wife Tamaka Nickson carries their daughter Aayden, 3, to their car to leave their apartment Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, at Cuney Homes in Houston. He said their family had been without power since yesterday, and that they all slept in one bed to stay warm last night, as a winter storm hit the Houston area.

Jon Shapley / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less
Residents of Cedar Crest Drive walk past their burning house as Abilene, Texas firefighters try to contain the fire Monday Feb. 15, 2021. Crews were only able to draw water from one hydrant because all three city water treatment plants were offline due to power outages. (Ronald W. Erdrich /The Abilene Reporter-News via AP)
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Residents of Cedar Crest Drive walk past their burning house as Abilene, Texas firefighters try to contain the fire Monday Feb. 15, 2021. Crews were only able to draw water from one hydrant because all three city water treatment plants were offline due to power outages. (Ronald W. Erdrich /The Abilene Reporter-News via AP)

Ronald W. Erdrich / Associated PressShow MoreShow Less
People seeking shelter from below freezing temperatures rest inside a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. More than 4 million people in Texas 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)
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People seeking shelter from below freezing temperatures rest inside a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. More than 4 million people in Texas 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)

David J. Phillip/Associated PressShow MoreShow Less

Californians are familiar with large power blackouts, but Texas’ energy grid failures this week are on a much vaster scale, leaving millions of residents shivering for days.

California saw its own blackouts late last summer and into early fall, when massive wildfires and intense heat waves rippled across the state. But the Texas blackouts are far more severe than the ones Californians have dealt with over the years, for several key reasons.

Supply and demand

Different weather events can stress power grids in different ways, according to Michael Webber, energy professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Some events work by reducing supply: In this case, the snowstorm in Texas has frozen many of the state’s gas wells, drastically cutting available resources.

The weather has resulted in a 30-gigawatt energy shortage — equivalent to 30 big power plants going offline, according to Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at UC Berkeley. Twenty-six of those lost gigawatts are from gas shortages, and 4 are from lost wind power due to frozen windmills.

“We have an incredible shortage of gas,” Webber said — just when many Texans need increased energy supply to heat their homes.

California also saw a demand-driven energy shortage in August, when a heat wave drove up air-conditioner use and forced rolling blackouts. But that shortage affected fewer than 250,000 customers (or about 750,000 people), and didn’t affect California’s own supply of electricity. However, it did increase demand in other states, meaning California couldn’t borrow energy from its neighbors.

Those rolling blackouts were the first that California’s energy-grid operator had imposed since 2001, when the state was experiencing an electricity crisis.

The state’s biggest power shutoff last year — affecting up to 500,000 customers in Northern and Central California — wasn’t about supply, Webber said. Rather, the threat of an electricity-sparked wildfire made it unsafe for its primary energy utility, PG&E, to operate.

“These were pre-emptive, intentional shortages where you created one problem — energy outage — to spare another, a wildfire,” he said.

Texas has its own energy grid

California relies on energy from the Western Interconnection, one of two main electrical grids (the Eastern Interconnection is the other) that serve the entire U.S. — with the exception of Texas.

The Lone Star state relies almost entirely on its own energy grid. Except for El Paso, the upper panhandle and a part of East Texas, the state’s energy supply is run by the state-owned Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Established at least partly to avoid the reach of federal regulators, ERCOT is a point of pride for many anti-big-government Texans.

But unlike any other state, when Texas runs into supply issues, its isolation means it has no one to turn to — unlike California.

“If Texas has a problem, we cannot lean on our neighbors to bail us out,” Webber said. “If California is having a problem, they can lean on neighboring states. That’s an advantage that California has.”

Unless, of course, those neighboring states are seeing increased demand too, as was the case during California’s August heat wave.

Electrical systems need major upgrades

Still, both energy outages have highlighted a similarity between California and Texas, according to Kammen.

“What is so interesting here is that like in California — extreme weather (for us, fires) — has stressed an old, outdated and ‘not smart’ grid,” Kammen said in an email. “Without well-integrated solar, wind, AND energy storage our grids are vulnerable.”

Modernizing the nation’s three electrical grids would help states avoid critical shortages like these, Kammen said. In the meantime, Texas could follow California’s example of passing legislation like AB 2514, which led to increased energy storage capacity in the state.

“In Texas, an investment in energy storage would provide a means to keep critical facilities up and running during these events: hospitals, schools, and hospitals, for starters,” he said.

Susie Neilson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @susieneilson

What went wrong with the Texas power grid?

15-02-2021 · Millions of Texans were without heat and electricity Monday as snow, ice and frigid temperatures caused a catastrophic failure of the state’s power …

15-02-2021

Millions of Texans were without heat and electricity Monday as snow, ice and frigid temperatures caused a catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid.

The Texas power grid, powered largely by wind and natural gas, is relatively well equipped to handle the state’s hot and humid summers when demand for power soars. But unlike blistering summers, the severe winter weather delivered a crippling blow to power production, cutting supplies as the falling temperatures increased demand.

Natural gas shortages and frozen wind turbines were already curtailing power output when the Arctic blast began knocking generators offline early Monday morning.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which is responsible for scheduling power and ensuring the reliability of the electrical network, declared a statewide power generation shortfall emergency and asked electricity delivery companies to reduce load through controlled outages.

More than 4 million customers were without power in Texas, including 1.4  million in the Houston area, the worst power crisis in the state in a decade. The forced outages are expected to last at least through part of Tuesday, the state grid manager said.

CenterPoint Energy, the regulated utility that delivers electricity to Houston-area homes and provides natural gas service, started rolling blackouts in the Houston region at the order of state power regulators. It said customers experiencing outages should be prepared to be without power at least through Monday.

“How long is it going to be? I don’t know the answer,” said Kenny Mercado, executive vice president at the Houston utility. “The generators are doing everything they can to get back on. But their work takes time and I don’t know how long it will take. But for us to move forward, we have got to get generation back onto the grid. That is our primary need.”

In the midst of a record-breaking winter storm, Houstonians woke up to a blanket of snow in February 2021, even on the city's busiest roads. Video: Houston Chronicle Photo Staff

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said the rolling blackouts are taking more power offline for longer periods than ever before. An estimated 34,000 megawatts of power generation — more than a third of the system’s total generating capacity — had been knocked offline by the extreme winter weather amid soaring demand as residents crank up heating systems.

The U.S. Energy Department, in response to an ERCOT request, issued an order late Monday authorizing power plants throughout the state to run at maximum output levels, even if it results in exceeding pollution limits.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state’s deregulated power system, which doesn’t provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.

“The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” said Hirs. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

“For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity,” said Hirs. “If you don’t make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It’s like not taking care of your car. If you don’t change the oil and tires, you can’t expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work.”

Woodfin said ERCOT and generators followed best practices for winterization, but the severity of the weather was unprecedented — “well beyond the design parameters of an extreme Texas winter.”

The hit to power generation came as frigid weather froze wind turbines and forced outages among natural gas and other power plants. Most of the power knocked offline came from thermal sources, Woodfin said, particularly natural gas.

Natural gas supplies for electric generation are already strained in the winter, the peak season for gas used for heating, adding pressure to supplies used to generate electricity.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and natural gas in the state, said Monday afternoon that some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, were experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions, causing concern for employee safety and affecting production.

As part of its statewide response, the commissioners issued an emergency order on Friday evening to manage shortages of natural gas, requiring gas to first be delivered to residences, hospitals, schools, churches and other locations that meet human needs, then to power plants and then to industrial users.

The RRC also issued a notice asking oil and gas operators to monitor and maintain operations as safety permits.

ERCOT and utility officials called on Texans to do as much as they can to conserve energy.

“Every single watt of savings is one watt that we don’t have to go take out at somebody’s house,” Mercado said. “For those who still have power, whether it is commercial, a school, residential, if they can bring their demand for electricity down, that would help us. That is what we need for the rest of today. I want to emphasize this.”

With demand high and supplies short, wholesale electricity prices have spiked, and because of the nature of electric power contracts, those increases may be felt by consumers well after the region has thawed. Wholesale electricity sold are near the ,000-per-megawatt hour maximum in power markets across the state Monday as the system struggled to meet demand, according to ERCOT.

The system hit a new record early Monday morning of more than 69,000 megawatt hours, well above the previous winter record of about 66,000 megawatt hours set in 2018.

ERCOT entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. Monday. As the regulator calls for reductions in demand, each supplier is responsible for reducing its share of the gap by its share of the market. In the case of CenterPoint, that’s about 25 percent, ERCOT’s Woodfin said.

Oncor, which serves the Dallas area and beyond, is responsible for 36 percent.

Rotating outages could be initiated until this weather emergency ends, with Monday and Tuesday mornings at the highest risk periods for rlling blackouts, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. Blackouts could last between 15 minutes and an hour and could happen more than once.

“These are not rolling blackouts. We are dealing with system-wide power outages across the state,” Turner tweeted at 8:11 a.m.

Downed power lines caused by icing could keep some customers in the cold and dark for an extended time.

Hirs said Houston residents can expect more power outages in the future.

“The year 2011 was a miserable cold snap and there were blackouts,” said Hirs. “It happened before and will continue to happen until Texas restructures its electricity market.”


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Why the Texas power grid is struggling to cope with the ...

16-02-2021 · Why the Texas power grid is struggling to cope with the extreme cold A sudden spike in energy demand and a loss of natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind energy during a winter storm triggered ...

16-02-2021
The Texas Capitol is surrounded by snow on February 15 in Austin, Texas.
A sudden winter storm has triggered power outages across Texas, including its capital, Austin.
Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Winter Storm Uri chilled large areas of the western, central, and southern US over the weekend, straining the power grid in some places so badly that millions of Americans have had to go without power in temperatures below freezing.

The National Weather Service on Monday reported that 150 million Americans were under various winter storm warnings, with heavy snow and ice still likely to sweep from the southern Plains, to the Ohio Valley, to the Northeast.

Thousands of utility customers in states like Louisiana and Mississippi suffered blackouts as ice knocked out power lines.

Texans, however, may be shivering more than others, with some of the coldest temperatures in 30 years, and some of the biggest power grid problems. More than 4.2 million customers had lost power as of Tuesday morning, when temperatures dipped as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit — lower than Anchorage, Alaska — in cities like Dallas. Flights were canceled out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved a state of emergency declaration for Texas following a request from Gov. Greg Abbott.

For residents of the Lone Star State, the problem stems from both a record spike in electricity demand in a place that rarely gets this cold, as well as an unexpected drop in the supply of energy from natural gas, coal, wind, nuclear, and solar sources besieged by cold and ice.

This combination of shortfalls has forced power grid operators to conduct rolling blackouts, where power is shut off to different areas for a limited period of time. Local utilities are asking customers to conserve power and set their thermostats lower. For some customers, these blackouts aren’t rolling, instead stretching on for an unknown duration. On Tuesday afternoon, grid operators told Texas legislators that outages could last for days and that they weren’t sure when the power outages would end.

In Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, health workers scrambled to distribute Covid-19 vaccines as freezers lost power and backup generators failed. The county had to hurriedly administer 8,500 doses of the Covid-19 Moderna vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures between minus 13 degrees and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Throughout the state, the National Guard has been deployed and 135 public warming centers have opened up to give people a respite from the frigid weather, although Covid-19 precautions remain in effect.

Texas’s grid crisis is a stark reminder that extreme weather events like Uri remain a threat to energy infrastructure across the country. There are, however, some unique factors in Texas that have put the state in such a precarious position. And with more frigid weather in store this week, Texans can’t come in from the cold just yet.

Why the extreme cold has the Texas power grid shaking in its boots

Unlike other states, Texas operates its own internal power grid that serves much of the state. Managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the grid provides 90 percent of the state’s electricity and serves 26 million customers.

It draws on a diverse range of power sources in a competitive market. The largest source of electricity in Texas is natural gas, followed by wind and solar, coal, then nuclear. The state is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the US.

The sudden cold snap this weekend put the state’s ample resources to the test, with demand reaching a record high peak for the winter, more than 69,000 megawatts. That’s 3,200 MW higher than the previous record set in 2018.

As demand reached new heights, the supply of electricity fell drastically in the past few days, far below what operators expected. Ordinarily, ERCOT plans for winter to be much warmer and anticipates a lower energy demand. Power providers often schedule downtime and maintenance during the winter months to prepare for the massive annual surge in electricity demand in the hot Texas summer. The state’s ample wind and solar energy resources are also diminished in the winter, so ERCOT doesn’t depend on them to meet much of the demand they anticipate.

However, the cold itself posed a direct challenge to the power sources that the state was counting on. Wind turbines iced up. Coal piles froze.

The biggest shortfall in energy production stemmed from natural gas. Gas pipelines were blocked with ice or their compressors lost power. Much of the gas that was available was prioritized for heating homes and businesses rather than generating electricity. That’s helpful for people who use gas for heating but less so for those who use electric furnaces.

The Texas power grid has not been compromised.

The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen.

This includes the natural gas & coal generators.

They are working to get generation back on line.

ERCOT & PUC are prioritizing residential consumers. https://t.co/wDiDXN17Fu

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) February 15, 2021

Wholesale natural gas prices, meanwhile, shot up as much as 4,000 percent. According to Bloomberg, electricity prices in northern Texas jumped to 0 per megawatt-hour, up from the average this month of per megawatt-hour.

In total, about 34,000 megawatts of power generation in Texas went offline during the winter blast, more than 40 percent of peak winter demand. So even with a diverse range of energy sources, Texas was left scrounging for electrons in the bitter cold.

Many parts of the country suffer outages in extreme weather, but everything is bigger in Texas

The power grid is a complex beast, but it becomes unstable when there is more energy demand than supply, which forces drastic actions like deliberate blackouts.

One question many Texans are asking is whether ERCOT should have seen a scenario like this coming and done more to prepare. ERCOT has historically been more worried about meeting peak summer demand, which can top 125,000 megawatts as hundreds of thousands of air conditioners switch on to cool during the summer heat.

However, Texas has faced cold snaps before, and the current winter storm was forecast days in advance. Some research suggests that as climate change warms the Arctic, periods of extreme winter weather may become more frequent in the United States, and cold snaps that stress the power grid may become more common. But other climate researchers are skeptical of these results and think that periods of extreme cold will become less likely as the planet warms.

ERCOT did do some modeling and planning ahead of this winter, but they used past winters as their benchmarks, which aren’t much help when the cold dips to record-breaking lows. “We studied a range of potential risks under both normal and extreme conditions, and believe there is sufficient generation to adequately serve our customers,” said Peter Warnken, manager of resource adequacy at ERCOT, in a report forecasting winter energy demand and supply in Texas.

The state was only expecting to lose about 8,600 megawatts in power generation over the winter, with a peak demand of roughly 58,000 megawatts. That forecast was far off the mark from the 34,000 megawatts that went offline and the peak of 69,000 megawatts in the recent winter storm.

Part of the problem may also be Texas’s go-it-alone approach to its electricity. “The Texas power grid is really an island,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University who has done modeling research on the state’s power systems. “Whatever happens in Texas stays in Texas.” While there are some interconnections between Texas and neighboring states, those power lines aren’t adequate to draw the power it would need to cope with such a massive shortfall.

Energy trading across states has helped cushion the blow of extreme cold in past winters, but it’s not clear that there would be much power available for Texans to buy from other states right now, as many are also coping with their own soaring energy demands and supply shortfalls.

The Texas blackouts may also be a symptom of a lack of proper upkeep. “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the department of economics at the University of Houston, told the Houston Chronicle. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

And Texas isn’t the only part of the country that has struggled to stay warm in chilly winters. In 2019, a winter storm swept across the Midwest and Northeast, with spikes in electricity demand and sudden drops in natural gas production that forced people to ration heat and reduce power use.

On the other end of the spectrum, California suffered rolling blackouts last summer as energy demand surged amid record-breaking heat. California utilities also shut off power to customers to prevent the ignition of wildfires, when high winds picked up amid dry weather.

These events triggered by weather extremes can overwhelm energy systems, even for those that face such spikes and dips on a regular basis. It’s too reductive to blame any individual factor like intermittent renewable energy, fossil fuel generator shutdowns, decrepit infrastructure, or inadequate planning, though such events often become a political Rorschach test.

Rather, it’s a combination of multiple cascading failures that leaves millions of people in the dark. The hope now is that the power outages in Texas will provide important lessons and help avoid similar problems in the future. “I think this is an event that people are going to be looking back at for years,” Cohan said.

Texas Power Outage: 5 Million Affected After Winter Storm ...

5 Million Americans Have Lost Power From Texas to North Dakota After Devastating Winter Storm A boy walks up a snow covered hill after sledding down it in a …

The energy crisis that crippled Texas’s power system and sent energy prices soaring to record levels is deepening with at least 5 million people across the U.S. taking turns being plunged into darkness to avoid a total collapse of their grids.

Homes and businesses from North Dakota to Texas are losing power in the middle of an unprecedented deep freeze that has broken daily temperature records in hundreds of places. Grid managers can’t say exactly when the blackouts will end with the cold forecast to remain through Wednesday.

Medical centers are rushing to administer vaccines before they go bad. Flights are grounded. More than a million barrels a day of oil and 10 billion cubic feet of gas production are shut while pipelines have declared force majeure and massive refineries have halted gasoline and diesel output. U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Texas, making more resources available to help.

“I’ve been following energy markets and grid issues for a while, and I cannot recall an extreme weather event that impacted such a large swath of the nation in this manner — the situation is critical,” said Neil Chatterjee, a member of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The cold blast is just the latest in a chain of extreme weather events that have brought down power grids and upended energy markets globally from Japan to Pakistan and France in recent months. They’ve all underscored how vulnerable the world has become in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather brought on by climate change and are raising questions about the global push to electrify everything from transportation to heating and cooling.

More than 4.3 million homes and businesses were without power across Texas on Monday, based on utility outage data compiled by Poweroutage.us. Another 400,000 were down in a swathe of states stretching from Louisiana to Ohio and Virginia. More than 300,000 outages hit Oregon, and even the New York City suburbs were affected, with nearly 24,000 outages in New Jersey’s Sussex County.

In Mexico, over 4.7 million homes and businesses went dark after Texas’s shortages triggered cascading failures. But about 65% of those affected in Mexico had seen their power restored by midday, according to grid operator Cenace.

While temperatures are forecast to rise, the weather across the central U.S. will remain extremely cold this week. Dallas, which was forecast to see a low of 2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17 degrees Celsius) late Monday, will reach a high of 29 by Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. But by late Thursday, readings will drop back into the teens.

Such weather conditions are extremely rare, especially in parts of Texas. In Houston, the state’s largest city, roads were iced over and people braved long lines to refill household propane canisters. Traffic and street lights are down. Firewood is selling out. Grocery stores have run out of essentials including milk.

Besides the human impact, the cold is wreaking havoc on the energy industry itself. U.S. oil production has dropped by anywhere from 1.5 million to 1.7 million barrels a day, helping U.S. crude prices trade above a barrel for the first time in more than year. The region’s refining complex — which produces almost half of the nation’s fuel — is struggling to limp along without power. Some of the largest oil refineries have shut altogether, threatening to reduce supplies of gasoline and diesel across the country.

Dan Woodfin, a senior director for grid manager Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Monday that the rolling blackouts will probably last “all day tomorrow.” The grid operator for the U.S. Midwest also said demand had nearly exceeded supply Monday night, urging conservation to avoid blackouts.

Traders are drawing comparisons between the energy shortages now gripping the central U.S. and the 2000-2001 energy crisis in the western U.S., as well as a 1998 run-up in power prices in the Midwest. Just months ago, California was forced to institute its first rolling blackouts in two decades when extreme heat pushed power demand beyond capacity.

This week’s cold front caught Texas’s highly decentralized electricity market especially by surprise. The region’s grid is designed for hot summers, not ice-cold winters. Utilities there haven’t had to carry out rolling blackouts since 2011. Power plants with a combined capacity of more than 34 gigawatts were forced offline overnight, including nuclear reactors, coal and gas generators and wind farms, Woodfin said. It’s not yet clear why.

Wind power generators were among the victims of the cold weather, with turbine blades rendered inoperable due to ice — a phenomenon that reduces efficiency and can ultimately stop them from spinning. Texas estimated that more than half of its wind power capacity had come offline.

At times, parts of Texas were colder than Alaska, according to the National Weather Service. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Houston may pick up as much as 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow overnight, along with ice and sleet, the National Weather Service said. It will get hit by another storm bringing ice and freezing rain Wednesday.

“The southern plains are in a cold pattern,” said David Roth, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. “It is going to take a while for them to break out of it.”

–With assistance from Brian Eckhouse, Dan Murtaugh, Aaron Clark, Stephen Stapczynski, Amy Stillman and Javier Blas.

Contact us at [email protected]

Who's actually to blame for the Texas power disaster ...

17-02-2021 · Texas has its own power grid. Because it is Texas. And while being independent from the yoke of federal regulation has always been a point of pride for Texas, the limits of that strategy are being ...

17-02-2021
CEO reacts to backlash over power outages in Texas

(CNN)With millions of Texans still without power in the wake of a winter storm and frigid temperatures, everyone is looking for someone to blame.

Many Democrats are blaming Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for failing to adequately prepare for the storm. Many conservatives are blaming the environmental movement -- insisting that frozen wind turbines show the limits of alternative energy sources. (This is a gross exaggeration.)

But the primary fall guy is the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), an independent organization that operates Texas' power grid.

"This was a total failure by ERCOT," said Abbott on Tuesday. "These are the experts. These are engineers in the power industry. These aren't bureaucrats or whatever the case may be. These are specialists, and government has to rely upon on these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations."

The story, as you might guess, is actually slightly more complicated than that. It's rooted in Texans' views of their state as a quasi-independent country -- and a desire to have as little federal interference in their lives as possible. Yes, there are politics at the root of this.

"Texas' secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid," wrote the Texas Tribune back in 2011.

To understand what is happening right now in Texas -- and who's to blame -- you have to go back to 1935, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which governed electricity sharing and sales between the states. Basically, it allowed the federal government to regulate states who brought power in from outside their state lines.

Texas, never a fan of federal intrusion, set up its own power grid system -- split between northern and southern Texas -- to avoid any federal involvement. That led eventually to the formation of ERCOT in 1970 and this strange fact: There are three power grids in the United States -- the eastern power grid, the western power grid and, well, Texas.

Yes, you read that right. Texas has its own power grid. Because it is Texas.

And while being independent from the yoke of federal regulation has always been a point of pride for Texas, the limits of that strategy are being realized now. See, because Texas -- or at least 90% of the state -- is controlled by ERCOT, they can't simply borrow power from either the eastern or western power grids. That's never been a problem before because Texas has always been able to generate more power than its citizens need. But the reality is that Texas is an electricity island, which isn't a problem until the lights go out, and you don't have enough power in the state to turn them back on.

Now, there's no question that ERCOT bears some blame here, too. When your only job is to manage a power grid and that power grid fails miserably, that's a big problem. And as the Houston Chronicle noted on Tuesday, the chair of ERCOT lives in Michigan and the vice chair lives in California -- so they are not exactly feeling the brunt of their bad strategy.

While ERCOT is a nonprofit, it is overseen by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas state legislature. The head of the PUC is DeAnn T. Walker, who was appointed to that role by Abbott in 2017. Prior to that post, she was a senior adviser to Abbott on regulatory issues.

The state legislature is already agitating about addressing the ERCOT situation, with Abbott calling it an emergency issue for the 2021 legislative session -- meaning that a bill can be passed within the first 60 days of the legislative session, which began last month. Texas state House Speaker Dade Phelan is calling for committee hearings to investigate ERCOT by the end of the month.

Here's the reality: In a situation as catastrophic as the one Texas finds itself in right now, there's plenty of blame to go around. But the roots of Texas' current electricity crisis can be traced all the way back to the cries of "Remember the Alamo" -- and the double-edged sword of the state's fiercely protected independence.

Millions Lose Power In Texas, Northern Mexico As Blackouts ...

16-02-2021 · The power supply outages in Texas affected millions of people across the border in northern Mexico, where some 4.7 million customers were …

16-02-2021

A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to almost 4 million people and shut down airports and roads.

David J. Phillip/AP

Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

A winter storm that brought bitter cold, snow and ice and left millions without power in Texas and northern Mexico will extend its grip through Tuesday.

The National Weather Service reports extremely cold temperatures ranging from minus 5 to 3 degrees are predicted through at least noon on Tuesday for all of North and Central Texas.

As the state deals with piercing cold, roughly 4.4 million Texas customers were without power as of midday Tuesday after the power grid failed.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Monday that the Texas National Guard was being deployed to help get people to heating centers. He said state agencies are sending additional resources and personnel to help local officials clear roadways and to assist essential workers.

"The state has also deployed resources to assist Texans without power and to help essential workers continue to carry out their jobs," Abbott said in a statement. "In the meantime, I encourage all Texans to continue to stay off the roads, and conserve energy as state agencies work with private providers to restore power as quickly as possible."

Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all 254 counties Friday. The White House granted Abbott's request for a federal emergency declaration for Texas in response to the severe winter weather.

Critical energy issues

Attempts to keep the heat and lights on at the onset of the severe weather failed. Rolling blackouts scheduled early Monday to conserve Texas' energy supply turned into extended blackouts that are now expected to last well into Tuesday, and possibly longer, energy company officials said.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said the grid lost some 34,000 megawatts of power. Energy sources powering the grid were knocked offline, most of which were powered by natural gas, coal or nuclear energy, according to Houston Public Radio.

The state grid was already facing some shortages because of frozen wind turbines and limited gas supply.

In North Texas, energy provider Oncor said power outages in the region, previously expected to last just 45 minutes, would be "significantly extended" and told customers to be prepared to be without power for a while.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Monday afternoon that it was restoring "enough power to serve 500,000 households." In a Facebook post Tuesday, it added: "We should be able to restore some customers this afternoon due to additional wind & solar output, & additional thermal generation that has told us they expect to become available. But, the amount we restore will depend on how much generation is actually able to come online."

The power supply outages in Texas affected millions of people across the border in northern Mexico, where some 4.7 million customers were left in the dark. Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the outages will be "under control" by Wednesday or Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission said the blackouts were tied to frozen natural gas pipelines from Texas that supply private power plants in northern Mexico.

Residents in Juárez and some other areas in the state of Chihuahua were affected, according to KVIA News in Ciudad Juárez.

Roughly 65% had their power restored by midday on Monday, according to the Federal Electricity Commission.

Impact in Dallas, Austin

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins declared an emergency in the county because of the record cold and said he fears people might die from it.

"There is a danger of people freezing if this gets worse and the grid doesn't do what it needs to and they don't get their power back on," he said.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, residents reported power outages lasting at least a few hours, according to KERA News in Texas.

Jenkins asked nonessential businesses to stay closed until 10 a.m. local time Tuesday to help the region conserve power. He asked every business and homeowner to set thermostats no higher than 68 degrees.

In northern Fort Worth, residents were being asked to boil their water because of the power outage at the Eagle Mountain Water Plant, KERA News reported. The water plant lost power in a blackout Monday. A day later, the order was expanded to more than 210,000 residents.

Nine cities that buy water from the plant — Haslet, Keller, Lake Worth, Northlake, Roanoke, Saginaw, Southlake, Trophy Club and Westlake — were told to boil their water, as well.

Fort Worth issues UPDATED boil water notice to north side residents.
Due to a power outage at a plant, Fort Worth is notifying customers in a large portion of the city to boil their water prior to consumption. Map below shows the affected area. More see: https://t.co/WljATrM5mn pic.twitter.com/wnFBnGfcYX

— Fort Worth Water (@FWWater) February 16, 2021

Flights in and out of Texas have also been affected.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport said it was experiencing delays and cancellations that are expected through Tuesday. As of noon ET on Tuesday, Flightview was continuing to report major delays on both inbound and outbound flights.

All arrival and departure flights at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Tuesday are canceled for the second day, the airport said.

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.

Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond

18-02-2021 · Power outages in Texas and other states are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when seasonal shifts were more predictable. …

18-02-2021
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.

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 low 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.

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 there were 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 UC Berkeley who has been studying power supply issues for more than 20 years.

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.

With the blackouts rolling, 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.

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.

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 and Liedtke from San Ramon, Calif. The AP’s Paul Weber in Austin contributed to this report.