With roughly a quarter of Texans still without power, the managers of the state’s electrical grid Wednesday declined to say exactly when electricity would be fully restored, saying that the main factor in coming days will be the weather.
Warmer weather could allow frigid power facilities to roar back to life, restore natural gas production, open up roads for skilled workers to make power repairs and cut demand from consumers, they said.
“The best case is that today or tomorrow we’re able to get back to the point that all consumers are experiencing outages no longer than 30 minutes or an hour at a time,” said Dan Woodfin, head of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit corporation that runs the state power grid.
But avoiding putting a date on the worst case, he said ongoing record cold winter weather statewide might continue to drive up electricity demand and continue to cripple power generation facilities.
Out of 12.4 million Texas homes and businesses tracked by PowerOutage.US, a website that records power outages, more than 3.3 million were without electricity at noon Wednesday, the third day of widespread power loss in the state.
The briefing from ERCOT leaders came as they’re under mounting criticism as the calamity persists.
“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in an interview on Houston’s TV station ABC13 on Tuesday evening. “ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas … and they showed that they were not reliable. These are specialists, and government has to rely upon on these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations.”
“Do you think ERCOT leaders should resign?” ABC13 anchor Gina Gaston asked Abbott.
“Yes,” responded Abbott.
Asked about those comments at the press briefing Wednesday, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said, “The priority for us now, whatever the future holds, is to get the power back on.”
“Obviously this has been a tremendously difficult situation for Texans to have these outages for this long,” Magness said. “It’s a terrible situation.”
But he stood by ERCOT’s decision to mandate outages as demand spiked and power generation facilities faltered.
“The fundamental decision made in the middle of the night on Monday to have outages imposed was a wise decision by the operators we have here,” Magness said. “If we had waited and not done those outages … we could have drifted to blackout. That’s not just outages, but we could lose all electricity on system, and it could take months or longer to repair that.”
The result of letting the system ride on could have been “catastrophic infrastructure” problems, he said.
“I’ve got to stand behind the grid operators that made an extremely difficult decision,” he said.
He said later that there is no capacity shortage in a system that is typically calibrated to meet peak power demand in the Texas summer, when homeowners and businesses run their air conditioners.
“It was a problem of capacity knocked out by an extraordinary event,” he said, and that same weather event froze natural gas power production and drove up customer demand.
ERCOT officials were also asked about Abbott’s comments on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.
“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Hannity, adding, “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”
ERCOT said all types of facilities faltered, not just renewable energy production. “We had generating units of every kind that went offline,” Woodfin told reporters.
Overall, of the 46,000 megawatts of generation that were offline Wednesday, 28,000 were from coal, gas and nuclear and 18,000 were from solar and wind, ERCOT officials said, with 185 generating plants tripped offline.