Texas energy grid operator restoring energy to half one million Texans

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Some power — enough to serve about 500,000 homes — is being restored to the state’s power gird, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said as evening approached.

More than two million Texans were without power Monday as operators initiated controlled outages in an attempt to relieve stress on the grid amid extreme weather conditions.

About 2,500 megawatts of load was being restored as of about 4 p.m., ERCOT officials said in a news release. But the agency was still instructing transmission owners, like Oncor, to control outages.

ERCOT is telling transmission owners to shed 14,000 megawatts, down from 16,500 earlier in the day.

Outages began at 1:25 a.m. Monday, ERCOT said, and they are expected to last throughout the day and into Tuesday.

In a tweet about statewide electricity outages, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday afternoon about 200,000 residential customers will be back online hours after outages began. He did not say where power was being restored.

Abbott said earlier that officials are working to get power back online and residential consumers are being prioritized.

“Many power generation companies facilities froze overnight and shut down their ability to generate power. They are working to get power back on line,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet. “This includes the natural gas & coal generators.”

The Republican assured people the Texas power grid “has not been compromised.” He promised a more detailed update soon.

Good news. Results are on the way.

About 200,000 residential customers are coming back on line now.

More are expected in the coming hours. https://t.co/8AlqYOycT8

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) February 15, 2021

The Dallas skyline will go dark Monday night to conserve energy, Mayor Eric Johnson said.

Fort Worth city officials issued a water boil notice Monday afternoon for residents in the north part of the city, citing multiple power outages at the Eagle Mountain Water Plant. About 100,000 people are affected and many are left without water, officials said.

At its highest point, ERCOT said Monday that it had removed 10,500 megawatts of power from the load — enough to power about two million homes.

There are now more than 30,000 megawatts of generation that has been forced off the system. The outages are controlled, temporary interruptions of electrical service that rotate through different parts of the electric grid.

Thank you to our partners at @DtownDallasInc for requesting that our downtown buildings turn off their external lights tonight. I love our skyline at night, but we all need to do our parts to conserve energy.

— Mayor Eric Johnson (@Johnson4Dallas) February 15, 2021

“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness in a written statement.

As of 3:45 p.m., there are 9,521 active outages across the state affecting more than 1.1 million customers, according to Oncor’s storm center website that tracks power outages. More than two million people are affected statewide, according to The Associated Press.

EMERGENCY UPDATE: Due to the severity of the electric generation shortfall, our expected outage length of 15 to 45 minutes has been significantly extended. Outages due to this electric emergency could last for hours & we ask you to be prepared. (1/3)

— Oncor (@oncor) February 15, 2021

In a tweet Monday morning Oncor said the outage time lengths were “significantly extended” due to the severity of the demand and that outages may last hours.

“We are doing everything possible to respond to each of these power emergency events,” Oncor said.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Oncor said the outages were a result of the winter storm and of ERCOT’s controlled outages. All customers should be prepared to be without power for an extended period of time, Oncor said.

Oncor did not have a time frame for when power would be restored, citing that crews are working to restore power and that roads were impacted by the cold weather as well.

Oncor said it is using all designated power lines to control outages so that hospitals and other critical infrastructure is preserved, so anyone living near those facilities may not experience outages, while those farther from them may be out of power for longer periods of time.

“Conditions for power generation continue to be very serious and the combination of winter weather and reduced generation is unprecedented in the state of Texas,” the utility company said in a statement. “We are prepared for emergency operations to continue for at least several days.”

In a call to media Monday, ERCOT said that it expects rotating outages to last through Tuesday.

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said the outages, which are typically rotated by electric providers, could not be rotated because of the number of outages that needed to be conducted.

According to ERCOT, there is no maximum length of time where customers can be without power before it must be turned back on, and there is no time frame for when the generators can begin generating power again.

“How long the outages stay in place depends on how quickly we can get additional generation back online in order to meet that demand,” Woodfin said. “So really that’s a function of how quickly those generators can come back on.”

Woodfin said the unprecedented weather placed pressure on the grid, and the outages are part of the overall plan to prevent a total blackout.

“We have tried to work with the generators to develop best practices for winterization,” he said. “They have been put in place. But this event was well beyond the design parameters for even an extreme Texas winter which we would normally plan for. The result is what we’re seeing today.”

Operators, like Oncor, typically rotate controlled outages around neighborhoods and avoid critical areas where there are hospitals and emergency responders, Woodfin said. They’re bound to those areas, which is why some neighborhoods are experiencing frequent and long-lasting outages, he said.

“Because of the amount of load shed that we’ve required in order to balance supply and demand, they really don’t have enough options to be able to rotate between different areas so they’re basically having to take all of the areas that don’t meet one of those critical or technical criteria,” Woodfin said. “They can’t rotate through them and still reduce the demand by the amount that we need that we need to maintain reliability.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said on Twitter Monday that his office is in close contact with Oncor as outages persist.

“I have advised them that, to the fullest extent possible, neighborhoods should be cycled so we all share in the loss of power so as to lessen the time any neighborhood is without power,” Jenkins said.

Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua said in a statement Monday that he is urging all resident and non-essential businesses in Dallas to do their part and conserve energy.

“The City of Dallas has worked with the Omni Hotel to ensure we are not asking anything that we are not willing to do ourselves,” he said. “The Omni lights will remain off through Friday to include the Pegasus and tree lights on their property.”

The cold weather also caused commercial power outages and downed lines for Spectrum customers. In a notification sent to its customers, the interview, phone and TV service provider said services would be restored after several hours.

Spectrum customers in Texas are experiencing service interruptions related to winter weather causing commercial power outages and downed lines. As conditions allow we will be working to restore services. We apologize and thank you for your patience.

— Ask Spectrum (@Ask_Spectrum) February 15, 2021

Matt Varble of Las Colinas said his power went out at 1:30 a.m. Monday and came back on twice for less than an hour. The second time it went out was about 3:30 a.m., and it hadn’t returned as of 7 a.m.

“It’s starting to get very cold inside my house,” said Varble, who has two dogs living with him. “I lived in the north for a very long time and nothing like this has ever happened when I lived in New York, Ohio and Illinois.”

Richard Garcia said his home in Plano has been without power since 4:45 a.m., but it went out at least once at around 1 or 2 a.m.

Garcia was woken up when his CPAP machine stopped working, he said.

“I haven’t even attempted to even try to use it again since about the one or two o’clock hour when it first happened,” he said. “I haven’t been back asleep because I’ve just been checking on the house and we have a 3-year-old and stuff.”

Garcia said his wife has been using Oncor’s text message system to report that their home had been without power for more than 45 minutes. Oncor replied at 6:30 a.m. that they were trying to see when the power would be back on.

At about 7:40 a.m., Garcia’s thermostat read 58 degrees.

“It’s cold,” he said. “My wife and my 3-year-old are in the bed together and they’ve got layers and layers of blankets on.”

By 11:30 a.m., Garcia said his family had to move into their car to have a heater.

Amy Hull, who lives in north Fort Worth on the border of Saginaw, said her power has been out for at least 3.5 hours. Hull said she would feel less frustrated if there was any information on when power would be restored, but the Oncor website has not been working for updates.

“These things are easier if we can at least feel in the loop,” Hull said. “The lack of information is deeply unsettling.”

The water is frozen over at the cattle drive statues at The Plaza in front of the Dallas Convention Center in downtown Dallas on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Dallas. The region is currently under a winter storm warning. (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News)

The last time ERCOT initiated systemwide rotating outages was Feb. 2, 2011, only the third time in its history. That was around when a snowstorm hit North Texas just before Cowboys Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLV.

ERCOT officials try to prevent rotating outages in energy emergency alert levels one and two by tapping into additional megawatts that become available once an emergency is declared. ERCOT triggers its Emergency Alert System when operating reserves drop to 2,300 megawatts.

ERCOT initiates rotating outages when the reserves get down to 1,000 megawatts and aren’t expected to recover within 30 minutes, and all the additional resources have been tapped, said Woodfin.

ERCOT officials anticipated that demand would shatter the winter peak record of 65,915 megawatts and reach summer levels, which are typically higher as people run air conditioning in their homes and businesses.

Traffic moves through snow on US-75 near the High Five interchange as a winter storm brings snow and freezing temperatures to North Texas on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Dallas.  A winter storm watch has been issued for all of North Texas, including Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties and will be in effect from late Saturday through Monday afternoon.

A winter storm warning expired for North Texas at 9 a.m. Monday. But with wind chills expected to drop to as low as -20 degrees Monday and -15 degrees Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning for all of Dallas-Fort Worth and surrounding areas until noon Tuesday.

At 6 a.m. Monday, the National Weather Service measured 4 inches of snow at DFW International Airport after the area took on several inches throughout the day Sunday.

Campuses across North Texas were empty Monday — many schools were already out for the President’s Day holiday, many more classes were canceled due to the weather.

Just before 10 a.m., David Markson, 57, bundled up and hopped across Park Row Drive to take a photo of his snow-covered home. “I’ve lived here almost 29 years,” he said, “and it has never been this cold.”

His thermometer read 6.8 degrees, he said, just a few degrees warmer than what his son was reporting at his own home in Bozeman, Montana. Markson said he hadn’t had a power outage yet, and a gas heater was helping heat the home. He also carried a space heater from room to room, he said, and had a big pot of beef stew to keep warm.”

There’s no reason to go out,” he said, waving at the several inches of white stuff covering his driveway. “I mean, look at the street.”

Temperatures will fall into the teens for highs on Monday, according to KXAS-TV (NBC5), and low temperatures Tuesday morning will likely in the single digits. There is another chance of snow on Wednesday.

The governor issued a statewide disaster declaration Friday, and the state’s Transportation, Public Safety and Military department and other agencies have been deployed to respond to the storm.

The White House also issued a federal emergency declaration for the state, and Gov. Greg Abbott, who requested the declaration Saturday, thanked President Joe Biden.

Abbott also activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers and conducting welfare checks at local warming centers across the state.

How do I report an outage?

Customers without power may report outages by contacting Oncor at 888-313-4747 or texting OUT to 66267 if they are registered in My Oncor Alerts. Outage statuses can also be checked online through Oncor’s Check Outage Status page.

What should I do if my power goes out?

The National Weather Service said in a tweet that if power is shut off, people should take these safety precautions:

  • Close blinds and curtains to keep in some heat.
  • Close off rooms to avoid losing heat.
  • Stuff towels in cracks under doors.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing,
  • Eat and drink food to provide energy to warm the body, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Do not operate a generator inside the home. If you must use one, keep it at least 30 feet from your home.

How do I conserve energy?

The Public Utility Commission of Texas urged Texans to turn their thermostats to 68 degrees or lower, close shades and blinds to cut down on heat loss through windows, turn off and unplug non-essential appliances and lighting, and avoid using large appliances such as washers and dryers.

People also should lower their water heater temperature, Atmos Energy said. The maximum temperature should be 120 degrees.

The Associated Press and staff writers Allie Morris and Charlie Scudder contributed to this report.

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