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Cold snap tests Texas’ electric grid improvements

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth has warned of hypothermia-inducing wind chills of -5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit from Thursday night to Friday morning.

HOUSTON (CN) — Heaters are cranked up and fireplaces are crackling across Texas Thursday night with a polar front dropping temperatures into the teens.

Yet state officials have assured residents they will not see a repeat of February 2021 when Winter Storm Uri pushed the state’s electric grid to the brink of collapse, and set off widespread, lengthy blackouts that left 246 dead, according to the state’s official tally, more than 60% from hypothermia.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid manager, has issued a Winter Weather Watch through Feb. 6, but says it is well-positioned to handle a spike in demand.

The state’s grid had reserves of 6,784 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 1.3 million homes, as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, according to ERCOT’s real-time data tracker.

Those reserves are sure to dwindle as the National Weather Service in Fort Worth has warned of hypothermia-inducing wind chills of -5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit from Thursday night to Friday morning, and more than 5 inches of snow has fallen in Haskell, pop. 3,195, near the Oklahoma border.

“I just hope it’s not like last year. That was horrible,” a Houston court clerk was overheard telling a coworker Thursday afternoon.

Governor Greg Abbott has tried to tamp down Texans’ fears about another grid disaster.

The Republican governor is running for a third term this year and pundits say more blackouts like the ones a year ago that shut off the power in bitter cold temperatures to millions of Texas homes and businesses, some for as long as four days, could irrevocably damage his reelection bid.

In the fallout of Winter Storm Uri, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, to implement new weatherization rules for power plant operators, and raised the maximum penalty for those who do not comply to $1 million per day.

The commission tasked ERCOT with inspecting the plants. And ERCOT on Jan. 18 filed a winter readiness report stating 321 out of 324 electric generation units and transmission facilities had fully passed the PUC’s new regulations.

Still, Abbott warned early this week that isolated outages will occur and early Thursday 70,000 Texas homes and businesses were without electricity due to heavy winds and downed trees damaging power lines.

The number of customers without power in Texas had fallen to around 24,000 around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, according to poweroutage.us.

And the governor says downed lines will be quickly repaired.

“More than 10,000 linemen are already on the ground to assist with power issues and almost 2,000 more linemen are being deployed from outside of the state. Governor Abbott has issued a disaster declaration for 17 counties most affected by the icy conditions. This includes waiving regulations to ensure these additional linemen can more rapidly make repairs to power lines,” his office said in a statement.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management says those who lose power can also seek refuge at one of 185 warming centers. It has an online map with info about each site.

Dozens of Texas school districts have canceled classes Friday as officials are warning people to stay off the roads.

Temperatures in the state are expected to rise from highs of 35 to 43 degrees on Friday to 41 to 53, with the lowest of those temps in the Dallas area.

And by Sunday the city of McAllen, pop. 141,000, on the Mexico border, will reach a relatively balmy 61 degrees, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

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