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Officials with the state's energy grid operator said Tuesday it is still struggling with balancing supply and demand to the Texas power grid — and could not project when long-lasting outages would end as a winter storm caused millions of residents to lose power.
February Winter Storm 2021
When will my water come back? How can I get water in the meantime?
We do not know. State and city officials are urging patience — and telling Texans who have running water to boil it. Take whatever measures you need to prepare for several days without water. Officials in Austin, for example, said Feb. 19 that restoring water services would likely be a multiday process for the whole city. We have some resources here, but your best bet to find free water is to check your local media.
Will I get a large energy bill?
You shouldn’t immediately. Texas officials have signed an order temporarily preventing electricity providers from sending bills to residents. The order is a stopgap measure to give officials time to address a spike in some residents' bills. Officials also signed an order to stop utility providers from cutting off service to residents who haven’t paid a bill. Read more here.
How can I get updates?
Sign up for news updates from us by texting “hello” to 512-967-6919 or visiting this page.
I was without power for more than a day. Why are people calling these rolling outages?
When the state’s electrical grid operator began implementing rolling outages at 1:25 a.m. CT on Feb. 15, these were intended to be a temporary measure to deal with an extreme winter event.
Instead, some Texans are going without power for much longer, facing days without electricity instead of the originally planned 45 minutes at a time
The electricity grid was designed to be in high demand during the summer, when Texans crank their air conditioning at home. But some of the energy sources that power the grid during the summer are offline during the winter. So when Texans stayed home during the storm on Sunday and demanded record amounts of electricity, the state’s power grid could not keep up.
Wait, we have our own power grid? Why?
Yes, Texas has its own power grid run by an agency called ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The history is long, but the short version is: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with federal regulations. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. But Texas’ utilities do not cross state lines. 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.
Note that Texas is not all on this same power grid. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas.
I read online that wind turbines are the reason we lost power. Is that true?
No. The lost wind power makes up only a fraction of the reduction in power-generating capacity that has brought outages to millions of Texans.
An official with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said on February 16 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.
“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.”
How can I stay warm? How can I help others?
The National Weather Service encourages people to close blinds and curtains, gather in one room if possible and close doors to others, and stuff towels in the cracks under the doors. Wear loose-fitting layers of warm, lightweight clothing. Eating snacks and staying hydrated will help to warm the body up. Some cities are providing warming centers and transportation as needed — find local resources here. If you have resources or are able to offer financial donations, find nonprofits who are helping people here.
See more coverage
"The biggest variable that makes it difficult to give you a certain answer ... we're relying on ability to get that supply and demand in balance," Bill Magness, president and CEO of Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told reporters during an online news conference Tuesday afternoon. ERCOT is a nonprofit that manages the grid used by roughly 90% of the state.
Magness said that while ERCOT was working to restore power to residents — many of whom had been without it for multiple hours or longer as temperatures remained well below freezing — it was also aiming to avoid a complete shutdown of the grid, which he said "could last for an indeterminate amount of time."
"Over the next couple of days," he said, "I think we see really good signs of progress even though we have much work to do."
Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's senior director of system operations, said ERCOT started planning for the massive storm on Feb. 8 after meteorologists recognized that the weather would be severe and began working with generators.
"I don’t think there was any underestimation of the seriousness of this storm," Magness said, adding that there were "many steps taken" by both ERCOT and the rest of the state to prepare beforehand.
"Sunday night, we saw a major change in what was available to us in terms of the demand," he said, "and I think that's where the issue began and what we've been challenged by the past couple of days."
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott declared "ERCOT reform" an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session, saying that it "has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours." Abbott making the issue a top priority means the Legislature can approve bills related to the subject during the first 60 days of the session, which began Jan. 12. Hearings in both the House and Senate are already scheduled on the issue in the coming weeks, according to leaders in the two chambers.
Asked what ERCOT may need from the state to ensure similar outages do not happen in the future, Magness said he did not think anything was needed yet — but knew his organization would need to "explain things" to the Legislature and other state officials in the aftermath.
"We need to take the questions, take the issues up and explain what's happened over these past few days," he said. "We just need to, you know, answer and be accountable for what's going on."
Other local and state leaders Tuesday expressed frustrations over ERCOT's handling of the power outages, with at least one state lawmaker calling on its board and CEO Magness to resign.
In Galveston, County Judge Mark Henry said Tuesday afternoon that his communications with ERCOT had been nearly nonexistent.
“We have heard virtually nothing from ERCOT. The transmission providers keep saying it’s ERCOT’s decision to cut power,” he said. “Sunday afternoon we were told that we’d have rolling blackouts: one hour off, three hours on. That’s fine, we can live with that [but] that’s not at all what happened. What happened was power went off and it has not come back on.”
Meanwhile, Austin-area leaders held an online news conference Tuesday to urge residents to consume as little power as possible to prevent conditions from worsening.
Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent called the situation critical and warned that a complete shutdown of the grid "would take not just days to restore power but weeks and even longer for some." Sargent also warned that while essential services like hospitals and fire stations have power, the city may have to start pulling power from those facilities as well.
"Only as an absolute last resort," she said. "I am hoping that that won't happen, but I don't want to create a false sense of security because there is the potential the entire grid will go down."
Julián Aguilar and Abby Livingston contributed to this report.
This story is developing. Check back for more updates.