Texans no longer need to conserve energy, power grid operator says
We’re tracking the fallout from the massive winter storm in Texas, which has brought widespread power outages and transportation problems.
Winter Storm 2021
As Texas faced record-low temperatures in February 2021 and snow and ice made roads impassable, the state’s electric grid operator lost control of the power supply, leaving millions without access to electricity. As the blackouts extended from hours to days, top state lawmakers called for investigations into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and Texans demanded accountability for the disaster. The Texas Tribune covered the impact of the storm in real time and continues to bring accountability coverage as officials address the issues exposed by the storm.More in this series
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Here's what you need to know:
- Texans do not need to conserve energy, grid operators say
- ERCOT says forced outages no longer necessary
- Texans still suffering without power, water as crisis continues
- Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas is working to bring in more plumbers, help cities test their water
- Houston mayor says he hasn’t spoken to Gov. Greg Abbott during storm
- Texans of color, college students and hospital workers were left to struggle through winter storm
- Tribune launches texting service for people relying on cellphones for breaking news
- How to help, and get help, during Texas' winter storm crisis
Texans do not need to continue to conserve electricity, ERCOT says
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has ended emergency conditions and said conservation is no longer necessary.
“We only request conservation from customers when we really feel like we’re near emergency conditions,” said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT senior director of system operations, during a virtual press conference Friday morning. “We are completely back to normal operations.”
The regulator said it ended its forced outages Friday morning. Transmission providers are still continuing to end the remaining rotating outages, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said. Some Texans could be experiencing outages from storm damage, which local providers will address. — Reese Oxner
Lawsuits cropping up against Texas’ power grid operator
Lawsuits against Texas’ power grid operator are beginning to arise after Texans across the state lost power and heat for days. One lawsuit blames the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and American Electric Power of Ohio, which runs generators in Texas, for failing to prepare for weather-related outages or increase energy production before the storm, according to the Dallas Morning News.
At least one other lawsuit also aims to hold ERCOT accountable for power grid failures. The lawsuits were filed by Texas residents affected by the state’s electricity loss. — Anna Canizales
ERCOT says forced outages no longer necessary
The state's electric system now has enough generation to return to normal operating conditions, and no additional power outages were needed overnight to balance supply and demand, according to officials with the entity that operates the grid.
"There is enough generation on the electric system to allow us to begin to return to more normal operating conditions," said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Those who are still without power are those in areas where the distribution system was damaged by the ice storm, areas where power needs to be restored manually and large industrial facilities who voluntarily went offline to conserve energy.— Canizales
President Joe Biden says he'll visit Texas, sign major disaster declaration
President Joe Biden said Friday he'll sign a major disaster declaration order for Texas and visit the state soon in the aftermath of the massive winter storm that caused water disruptions and power outages to millions.
Biden told reporters that he'd speak with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the afternoon and "sign that declaration once it’s in front of me.” When asked whether he'd be visiting Texas, he said yes.
"The question is I had planned on visiting Texas in the middle of next week but I don’t want to be a burden," he said. "When the president lands in a city in America, it has a long tail.”
Biden said he would come to the state when it's clear he won't be a burden to the people on the ground.
In a letter addressed to President Biden Thursday, eight Democrats acknowledged that extreme winter temperatures will subside soon, but they "look to FEMA to help us recover from this disaster in the weeks and months ahead" without the standard full-field damage assessment that FEMA carries out after natural disasters. — Bryan Mena and Matthew Watkins
Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas is working to bring in more plumbers, help cities test their water
Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday afternoon that the state has four immediate priorities in responding to the crisis caused by this week's winter storm: restoring power to Texas homes, restoring water, ensuring Texans have necessary food and supplies and getting oil refineries up and running.
When it comes to his top priority — power — Abbott said there are no longer any residential outages due to lack of generation. But 165,000 households remain without power due to downed lines or the need for the power company to manually reconnect residents to the system, according to the governor.
Regarding water, Abbott said the state is focused on accelerating clean-water testing so that water can return to homes as soon as possible. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will begin operating a phone bank at 5 p.m. that will connect overloaded local facilities with other labs that can test their water more quickly, Abbott said.
Abbott also pointed to "what may be the largest challenge in the next week" for Texans: busted water pipes. To that end, the state has been working to grow the ranks of available plumbers, and as of noon today, over 320 had renewed their license, Abbott told reporters. The state plumbing board is also coordinating with out-of-state companies to bring more plumbers to Texas.
Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the state has delivered about 1.7 million bottles of water to Texans — by aircraft, because the roads remain slippery. The shipments will continue "as long as it takes," Kidd said.
When it comes to food and supplies, Abbott said he is prioritizing transportation by allowing the use of off-road diesel on Texas roads. He also said he is seeking a federal waiver that would permit all types of diesel on the state's roads.
At the news conference, Abbott continued to lay blame on the state’s electric grid operator for making misleading assurances that it was able to handle peak winter conditions. A few hours before Abbott spoke, the Texas Democratic Party held a news conference during which some of the party's biggest names identified a different cause: decades of GOP leadership in Texas.
"None of this had to happen," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. "The reason that it happened is that [under] Gov. Abbott, the state's Republican leadership ... there's been an utter lack of preparation and a neglect of the state's power system."
Added U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth: "It's Republicans that are to blame for this. Their lack of oversight, their lack of taking a multifaceted approach in diversifying our energy sector, led to this crisis." — Patrick Svitek
Houston mayor says he hasn’t spoken to Gov. Greg Abbott during storm
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an interview with MSNBC that he had not spoken with Gov. Greg Abbott during the storm. When asked during an afternoon press conference whether he had reached out to the governor, Turner said he has been “very laser focused” on dealing with the situation in Houston, and the White House has reached out to him several times.
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sylvester also offered updates on water conditions in America’s fourth largest city, noting that a boil notice will likely last until Monday.
During a water distribution event at Delmar Stadium, Carol Haddock, director of Houston Public Works, said the city water pressure is approaching the levels needed to get out of the boil water advisory, but some areas still have a low pressure, which can lead to contaminants getting into pipes.
Turner said the water boil notice could end as early as Sunday evening, but he asked residents to prepare for it to last until Monday.
Haddock said water pressure will return first to homes and lower-level apartment units, and then to higher floors by potentially the end of the weekend. Houston hospitals have had their water pressure restored, but people with water still need to conserve their water usage as much as possible to help the city, officials said.
Turner said the city has had as many as 4,900 reported calls of pipes bursting, but the number could be even higher. Houston will be announcing details soon about a relief fund to help people with financial need or without insurance who have seen their pipes burst or homes damaged, Turner said. — Megan Menchaca
Texans of color, college students and hospital workers were left to struggle through winter storm
Texans of color earning low incomes bore some of the heaviest weight of this week’s power outages as the inequities drawn into the state’s urban centers were exacerbated in crisis. Some residents escaped to nearby hotels, but those who could never afford that option watched the food in their refrigerators — and the precious dollars spent on it — spoil in front of them.
“When you didn’t invest in the whole community equally, then you're going to see the disparity when we get into situations like this,” said Jill Ramirez, the CEO of the Latino HealthCare Forum.
Meanwhile, Texas universities have tried to provide students with food and shelter and open warming centers in campus buildings. But many are battling dwindling food supplies, staffing shortages, and lack of water and power outages.
Patient logjams, overflowing emergency rooms and exhausted workers created challenging conditions for Texas health care workers in the wake of this week’s debilitating winter storm.
Power and water outages have also hit many Texas prisons and jails. Inmates suffered from unheated cells and correction officers were kept at the units for days without going home. — Texas Tribune staff
Hundreds of thousands still without electricity, even as power grid stabilizes
Hundreds of thousands of Texas electricity customers were still without power Thursday, even though the state was generating enough energy that it didn't have to force electricity providers to cut power at people's homes. In addition, millions of people across the state have had their water service disrupted because of the massive winter storm.
Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months, according to officials with the entity that operates the grid.
The remaining power outages were due to more local problems in the electrical system, which local companies were scrambling to repair. Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press conference Thursday that every available repair truck had been dispatched in the state to address the lingering electricity issues.
“What happened is absolutely unacceptable and can never be replicated again,” Abbott said.
While millions of Texans were left in the dark for days, people in El Paso, the upper Panhandle and parts of East Texas kept their lights on — thanks to power drawn from other parts of the country. — Texas Tribune staff
Tribune launches texting service for people relying on cellphones for breaking news
The Texas Tribune is launching a texting service for audiences who are relying on their cellular phones to get breaking news updates about the ongoing winter storm crisis, tips for how to get help and opportunities to ask our journalists your most urgent questions. To sign up, text "hello" to 512-967-6919 or visit this page. — Bobby Blanchard
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