ERCOT officials won't say when power in Texas will be fully restored
Operators of the state electrical grid declined to say Tuesday afternoon when they expect operations to return to normal, as millions of Texans continue to go without power.
More than 3.1 million Texas customers were without power late Tuesday afternoon, according to a site that tracks outages nationwide, far more than a day before but fewer than earlier in the day, as the state's electric grid operator struggled to bring back online plants crippled by an unusual winter storm.
On a press call Tuesday afternoon, Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit corporation that operates the grid, said that "with the weather moderating even a little bit, we hope to see an additional restoration of service" as more generators come online and power demand declines.
But he declined to give a prediction of when service might be fully restored.
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The blackouts left Texans cold, hungry and desperate, as they struggled to keep warm amid plunging temperatures, and in many regions, unable to travel on icy, snow-covered roads.
On Tuesday evening, with the calamity blowing into a full-fledged political crisis, Gov. Greg Abbott was laying blame with the grid operator.
"This was a total failure by ERCOT," Abbott said in an interview on Houston's ABC13. "ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas...and they showed that they were not reliable. These are specialists, and government has to rely upon on these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations."
"Do you think ERCOT leaders should resign?" ABC13 anchor Gina Gaston asked Abbott.
"Yes," responded Abbott.
Earlier Tuesday, Abbott declared a new emergency item for lawmakers to tackle during this year's legislative session: reforming ERCOT, the state's electric grid operator.
Only a day earlier, Abbott had sought to reassure Texans that state resources are being brought to bear — "Good news," the governor reported on Twitter on Monday evening. "Results are on the way."
But the power outages apparently increased as temperatures continued to dive.
Of the 12.5 million Texas customers tracked by PowerOutage.us, more than 4.3 million were without power Tuesday morning.
By 4.30 p.m. Tuesday, 3,170,150 were still without power, the site reported.
On Monday, 2.7 million Texans were without power.
"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable."
Democrats tried to pin the blame on the governor.
"A failure to plan for this winter storm and years of deregulation of our power system has led to this moment," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said Tuesday. “The people responsible for this must be held accountable. Greg Abbott must be held accountable for his lack of planning."
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan called Tuesday morning for a legislative hearing next week into the widespread electric outages.
Meanwhile, the problems cascaded.
City officials in Abilene on Monday, for example, asked residents to stop using nonessential water.
"Due to electricity outages across the water system, the City of Abilene needs all customers to curtail non-essential water usage," city officials said. "Your efforts to conserve water will assist the City in ensuring continued water service. Failure to curtail usage will result in loss of water service."
By mid-afternoon Tuedaay, roughly 37% of Austin Energy customers — 187,000 out of 512,000 — remained out of power, and city officials warned that customers "should be prepared to not have power through Tuesday night and possibly longer."
Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for ERCOT, said Tuesday on Twitter that "the number of controlled outages we have to do remains high. We are optimistic that we will be able to reduce the number throughout the day."
On Monday, the governor ordered the National Guard to perform welfare checks and aid officials in transferring elderly Texans to safe locations, and he deployed Department of Public Safety troopers and other resources to help with storm efforts.
Meanwhile, finger-pointing over who or what industry is to blame for the crisis was already unfolding.
State Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, blamed renewable energy for Texas' power woes in a tweet: "Winterization of our power plants is a critical issue that shouldve been resolved after the SuperBowl freeze in ’11. BUT highly subsidized wind pwr that breaks even at -2 cents/kWh has depressed the market keeping investors away from more reliable sources, leaving us vulnerable."
But Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia wrote Monday night on Twitter: "To folks blaming #renewables for Texas #RollingBlackouts the opposite is true," citing ERCOT data and observing that some gas and coal plants went offline.
"The point is TX needs a RESILIENT power system that can respond to EVER-INCREASING EXTREME WEATHER," he continued. "This is a massive failure that requires action."
Magness, the ERCOT CEO, asked by the American-Statesman how he would grade the grid operator's performance, said he would leave that to other people to decide.
ERCOT officials said Tuesday that not calling for controlled outages starting early Monday morning might have led to long-term, catastrophic infrastructure problems for the electric grid as an imbalance between supply and demand spiraled out of control.
"This has been an awful event for so many Texans," Magness said, who said his own Austin home has been without power. "We don’t want to see it happen again. But have to protect the overall grid."