Texas Grid Operator Makes Progress in Restoring Power

Hundreds of thousands of Texans have power again, but a second winter storm continues to stress the grid.

Snow is seen in rural Marfa, Texas, on Thursday. A second winter storm brought fresh rounds of snow to parts of Texas, as temperatures remained below freezing across much of the state. (Courthouse News photo/Travis Bubenik)

(CN) — Texas electric grid managers say they’ve made “significant progress” restoring power to hundreds of thousands of people who were left in the dark after a brutal winter storm brought the state’s grid to the edge of collapse.

Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told reporters Thursday morning that the state grid operator had given utilities the go-ahead to bring power back to everyone who initially lost it during a first wave of rolling blackouts early Monday morning.

“There are still customers who are not yet restored,” he said. “That progress isn’t complete.”

More than 500,000 electric customers still did not have power as of Thursday morning, according to Poweroutage.US, a website that tracks outages nationwide, but that was a notable improvement from the at least 2.7 million who were in the dark just yesterday.

The state’s various utility providers said crews worked overnight to carry out the actual work of getting electricity flowing back into homes.

Grid managers said most of the continued power outages across the state are due to actual damage from ice on powerlines and poles, large industrial facilities that “voluntarily” shut down during the crisis, or areas that faced emergency outages where crews still have to manually “reenergize” power lines.

Snow is seen in rural Marfa, Texas, on Thursday. (Courthouse News photo/Travis Bubenik)

“We’re not ready to say we’re finished with this event,” Magness said, warning that continued freezing temperatures and new rounds of snow and ice in parts of Texas would continue to stress the grid.

Meanwhile, new problems are surfacing across the state, as nearly 7 million people are being told to boil their water because of infrastructure damage from the storm. Water shortages led to one hospital in Austin transferring patients or sending them home, according to public radio station KUT.

ERCOT continues to face pressure from residents, lawmakers and state leaders over its handling of controlled blackouts that were launched early Monday morning as temperatures across the state dropped into the single digits. The blackouts were supposed to last for short periods of time to ease the strain on the grid, but they instead dragged on for hours and days for many people.

On Wednesday, a group of House Republicans from Texas sent a letter to Magness demanding answers on the grid operator’s plans leading up to the storm and the “likelihood of similar weather events” impacting the grid in the future.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is facing his own criticism for reportedly traveling to Cancun, Mexico, in the midst of the crisis.

Since the start of the blackouts, grid managers have stressed that if they had not taken action to purposefully shut off power for millions across the state, the grid’s balance of supply and demand could have spiraled out of control and sparked much more widespread, “catastrophic” blackouts.

Magness, the ERCOT CEO, was asked Thursday how close the grid came to that nightmare scenario early Monday morning.

“I think, if we hadn’t taken action, it wouldn’t have been that we would’ve waited a few days and saw what happened,” he said. “It was seconds and minutes.”

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