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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Millions Without Power as Winter Storm Wallops Texas

A mass of arctic air is besieging the state, bringing snow and freezing rain that has knocked power plants offline and frozen wind turbines.

HOUSTON (CN) — Temperatures plunged into the single digits across Texas early Tuesday, and frustrations grew for millions left without electricity by a grid not equipped to deal with record demand and equipment failures triggered by a historic storm.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's electric grid, had announced Sunday it would implement rolling blackouts caused by a shortage of electricity from people cranking up their home heating systems and a lack of supply as a storm that covered the state in a blanket of ice and snow had knocked gas-fired power plants offline and frozen wind turbines.

But it soon became clear the outages were not temporary, and as night fell Monday some became desperate.

A Houston-area family of six was hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning Monday after they lit a charcoal grill to warm their house.

A Houston woman and her young daughter died from carbon monoxide poisoning after they and two other family members got in their car parked in their garage and started the engine to try to warm up.

Ryan Andrew, 27, of Houston, said the power went out in his apartment around 2 a.m. Monday. "Waking up to no heat and no power and no water is terrifying and disconcerting," he said.

He blamed CenterPoint Energy, the power line operator for much of Houston, for not being prepared for the winter storm. In a tweet late Monday, CenterPoint said, "local controlled outages will be longer than planned."

James Mollander said his Houston townhome lost electricity around 7 a.m. Monday. He rode out the day, a frigid 25 degrees Fahrenheit in Houston though the sun was shining, bundled up under blankets in his easy chair. "If no power by noon tomorrow I'm going to a motel," he said.

Snow and ice on their runways forced Houston’s two large airports to shut down Monday, and hundreds of flights were canceled. They said they will stay closed until Tuesday afternoon.

Three hundred miles north in Forth Worth, the city issued a boil-water notice for 100,000 residents Monday due to power outages at a water treatment plant.

The central Texas cities of Kyle and Buda told residents to stop using water until further notice after the utility supplying them lost power.

Children unaccustomed to snow rushed outside Monday morning to play in it, and they will have more time to do so Tuesday as schools throughout the state canceled classes.

The arctic storm, which dropped temperatures to lows not seen since 1989 in Texas, led Governor Greg Abbott to issue a disaster declaration for all the state's 254 counties. President Joe Biden followed up with a federal emergency declaration for Texas, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency shelters.

Abbott said Monday he had deployed the Texas National Guard across the state to do welfare checks and help get people to one of the 135 warming centers the state has set up. He urged people to stay off icy roads and conserve energy and said power generators were working nonstop to get their plants back online.

“Due to the severe weather and freezing temperatures across our state, many power companies have been unable to generate power, whether it’s from coal, natural gas, or wind power,” he said in a statement.

Despite those efforts, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted around 7 a.m. Tuesday there are more than 1.3 million people still without power just in the Houston region.

Many Texans who lost power could remain without it throughout Tuesday, while others could still lose power for the first time.

AEP Texas, the transmission lines company that serves large swaths of West and South Texas, said Monday afternoon that people currently without power would stay without it “at least through Tuesday, possibly Wednesday.” The company said later on Monday that it would increase the number of controlled power outages within its network at the direction of ERCOT.

Meanwhile Oncor, which serves North Texas and also parts of West Texas, has not given clear timelines for when the situation might stabilize.

“As soon as enough generation is available, we will return to a regular cadence of rotating outages with the goal of providing any temporary relief that we can for those who have been without power the longest,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service forecast a freezing rain will hit Texas starting late Tuesday, possibly continuing until Wednesday afternoon, and warned of icy sidewalks and roads and danger from downed trees and powerlines.

Temperatures will not exceed freezing across much of Texas on Tuesday, meteorologists said. By Saturday they expect sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s for the Lone Star State.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said Tuesday he has asked the chamber’s State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees to hold a joint hearing Feb. 25 to “review the factors that led to megawatts of energy being dropped off the ERCOT system” when families needed it most and discuss how to prevent it from happening again.

“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders,” the Beaumont Republican said in a statement.

Governor Abbott went a step further Tuesday. He declared reforms of ERCOT, the state’s electric grid manager, an emergency item for this legislative session.

This designation means state lawmakers can pass ERCOT-related bills ahead of a rule that bars them from approving legislation within the first 60 days of the session, which started Jan. 12.

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” he said. “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.”

Courthouse News reporter Travis Bubenik contributed to this report.

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Categories / Environment, Health, Regional

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