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Texas Power Problems Persist As Deep Freeze Continues

Trisha Sebastian

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Winter storm in Austin Texas. Cacti in ice. Freezing rain. Winter scene-Texas Power Problems-ss-featured

Texas power problems continued for the second day as millions of homes remain without electricity. A severe cold storm knocked out the electricity grid, triggering a statewide emergency. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, said it continues to try restarting power plants hobbled by the weather. However, the agency warned that full restoration could take days longer. 

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Meanwhile, the National Weather Service said that a far-reaching winter storm brought snow, ice, and record low temperatures throughout the Great Plains and the Mississippi Valley. Very cold wind chills from Arctic air will linger at least until midweek. 

Severe Winter Conditions

Across Texas, temporary shelters filled up with residents seeking shelter from the cold. Public health officials fear that the cold could cause a number of deaths given the lack of power for heat. Governor Greg Abbott called for an investigation into the power failure. Around two to three million Texans suffer from lack of electricity by Tuesday evening. Around 15 people already died from the severe winter storm.

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Hotels and shelters filled up with residents escaping from their homes that lost power and heat. Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center reached capacity at noon Tuesday. City officials are still out looking for heated spaces to accommodate more Texans in need of shelter. South of Houston, the resident medical examiner for two counties requested a refrigerated truck in anticipation of fatalities. “We don’t have confirmation of weather-related deaths yet, but I find it extremely unlikely that won’t be the outcome. When you’ve been in your home without any heat or power, I don’t know how some people will be able to survive that,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.

Texas Power Problems Persist

Prior to the blackouts, power demand spiked as many residents jacked up their thermostats to fight the cold.  However, natural gas, coal, wind, and nuclear facilities in Texas went down as the weather became too cold to operate. With less power generated, ERCOT was not able to keep up with demand. The agency started with rolling outages, which then became prolonged blackouts. Electricity prices in the energy-rich state skyrocketed above 10,000% versus pre-winter storm days. 

In addition, Texas remains the only state that operates independently from the federal grid. Texas voluntarily chose the option of not connecting as it prefers self-management for its power requirements. However, this means that Texas won’t have the means to get power from other states in cases of shortages or during an emergency. 

Texas is Number One In Power Production

Analysts see the Texas power problems as ironic, considering that the state is number one in electricity production in the US. Texas generates almost twice as much as the next state, Florida. It accounted for 41% of the total US oil production and around 25% of the natural gas output. The Lone Star State also produces 28% of all wind power output in the country. 

Unfortunately, Texas isn’t accustomed to the cold weather. The state is subtropical east of Interstate 35 and arid desert west of it. The state never expected the severity of the cold front that hit it lately. More importantly, its power plants and infrastructure remained ill-prepared for the effects of the cold. This led to a series of shutdowns that crippled the electricity supply. Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said they urged power plant owners to winterize its operations. However, winterizing isn’t compulsory for the moment, and can cost substantially. The record low temperatures broke the current system. “We have plans in place to cover normal extreme weather conditions. This one is a little beyond our normal,” Woodfin admitted. 

State of Emergency 

Abbott earlier requested the White House to declare a state of emergency statewide. President Joe Biden approved Abbott’s request and directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. Also, Abbott sent the National Guard to conduct welfare checks and assist with emergency operations.

In addition, Abbott called for the Texas legislature to investigate ERCOT and the power outages. He called the situation “unacceptable,” and said, “the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.” ERCOT replied on Twitter that the agency is working to restore power “as fast as we can in a stable manner. Generating units across fuel types continue to struggle with frigid temperatures.”

Watch the CNBC news video reporting that winter storm continues to slam the US, causing millions in Texas to face rolling power outages:

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