More Texas Power Restored, but Widespread Blackouts Persist

Over 2 million Texans are still without electricity and temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing for several more days.

Motorist on County Road West drive past a power station in Odessa, Texas, on Tuesday. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)

(CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday afternoon that enough electricity had been restored across the state to power at least 1.2 million homes, though widespread blackouts persist in big cities and rural areas alike.

At least 2.3 million electric customers across Texas remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon, according to figures from the state’s various utility providers.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit that manages most of the state’s electric grid, have not been able to say definitively when power would be fully restored statewide after a brutal winter storm left many in the dark for more than two days.

Abbott warned during a press briefing Wednesday that winter weather would continue to pose challenges.

“Cold temperatures will remain across much of the state for the next few days,” he said. “We should, across the state, start getting above freezing on Saturday.”

ERCOT officials say they did not know when the grid would be fully operational again, as the timeline depends mostly on how fast power plants are able to get back up and running.

“The best case at this point is that today or tomorrow, we’re able to at least get back to the point where all the consumers are experiencing outages that are no longer than say, 30 minutes at a time,” Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of systems operations, said Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s likely we’re going to have enough available…that we’re going to have everybody back on today or before at least the morning today,” he said.

The crisis began early Monday morning, when an “Arctic blast”  shut down energy facilities across the state just as Texans were cranking their heaters. ERCOT began ordering power line companies to launch so-called “controlled” blackouts in an effort to keep the grid’s supply-demand balance from spiraling out of control, which could have led to even more widespread outages.

At one point, the storm’s effect on energy markets caused wholesale electricity prices in Texas to shoot up by more than 10,000%, according to Reuters.

The initial blackouts were supposed to last less than an hour and be rotated around neighborhoods and cities, but they’ve instead dragged on for days in many parts of the state.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon stands on his kitchen counter to warm his feet over his gas stove in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“The horrible consequences of what’s happened with that are obvious,” said Bill Magness, ERCOT’s President and CEO. “People not having power is dangerous.”

Still, grid managers have defended their handling of the crisis, saying the grid came close to a complete collapse during the peak of the storm.

“The reason that we are in this situation is that we risked that catastrophic blackout at 1 in the morning on Monday, and we had to reduce the demand to get the supply and demand back in balance,” Magness said. “Unfortunately, that has caused us to maintain these outages much longer than anyone would want.”

That explanation has done little to ease the frustration of millions of Texans, including lawmakers and state leaders. Abbott has called for an investigation into ERCOT.

“I’m not suggesting in any way there’s been any criminal activity or anything like that, but it is something that needs to be looked at,” the governor told reporters. “It is kind of opaque, the way it’s run. It’s not transparent. One thing everybody needs out of ERCOT is greater transparency.”

In Houston, officials warned residents to boil their water after the winter storm caused the city’s water pressure to drop below safe levels, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The state’s top environmental official said Wednesday that nearly 7 million people in Texas were being told to boil their water because of infrastructure problems stemming from the winter storm.

“This number is probably going to grow over the next day or two,” Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said.

As electricity generators in the state rushed to get back online, officials said they were being helped along by some thawing conditions in West and South Texas, where the state’s natural gas production is centered.

Still, ERCOT officials said about 18,000 megawatts of wind and solar power remained offline from the storm as of Wednesday morning, while about 28,000 megawatts of power from natural gas, coal and nuclear were down.

“About 19,800 megawatts of gas-powered generation is still offline because of either mechanical issues or the lack of the supply of gas for those gas generators to produce power,” Abbott said.

In a new detail, the governor said some natural gas companies in Texas had been shipping their product out of state throughout the crisis. Abbott said he signed an order effective Wednesday that would force those companies to instead sell their gas to power plants in Texas through Feb. 21.

The governor himself has come under fire from some over his comments in a national TV interview pinning the blame for the blackouts solely on renewable energy.

“Why is our Governor on FOX with political hacks complaining about…windmills?” KP George, the top official in Fort Bend County, one of the state’s most heavily populated counties, wrote on Twitter. “I invite him to visit 90 [year] olds in Fort Bend w/o heat, water, or power on O2 tanks. Stop the rhetoric.”

Abbott told reporters Wednesday those comments were among the many he had given about the issue in multiple interviews.

“The fact is, every source of power the state of Texas has access to has been compromised because of the ultra-cold temperatures or because of equipment failures,” he said.

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