ERCOT says state-wide power shortage, outages to continue

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A file photo from 2017 shows the Panda Power plant in Sherman. Officials with ERCOT said high demand and unexpected plant outages across the state have led widespread blackouts.

Following an unprecedented winter storm, electric providers and transmitters are working to stabilize the statewide electrical system. Meanwhile, millions of households across the remain without power during one of the worst winter events in years. 

The emergency was triggered by a perfect storm of high demand, the scheduled outage of some electric plants, and other plants going offline unexpectedly due to the winter storms.

Representatives with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas gave an update Monday morning on wide-spread intentional outages that were put in as the electric grid was taxed last night.

"As most of you know, this cold weather event is very unprecedented, reaching all the way across Texas," said ERCOT Senior Director of Operations Dan Woodfin noting that the agency reached its highest emergency level overnight.

As snow and freezing precipitation blanketed North Texas last night, electric providers saw a new record demand across the state. Between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., more than 69,000 megawatts of power was used across the state.

Still, the system was able to handle the strain of the demand without going into an emergency alert, Woodfin said.

However, demand remained high throughout the night. At around 11 p.m. generators started going offline due to the winter weather, which triggered an energy emergency alert by ERCOT. This in turn led transmitters to start instituting rolling blackouts to stabilize the demand on the system.

However, the number of offline stations continued to increase, triggering a level 3 emergency alert at approximately 1:25 a.m. — the first alert of this type since 2011.

At its peak, officials estimated that about 2 million households were affected, with an estimated electric demand of 16,500 megawatts of power. By comparison, about 34,000 megawatts was taken off the grid by the plants that went offline.

"We are working tirelessly to get the power back on as soon as possible and we know the generation and transmission providers are doing the same," Woodfin said.

While the intent was to rotate the outages, Woodfin said the  shortage on the grid has been so great that transmitters have been largely unable to do so. There are few circuits that do not have key infrastructure, hospitals, or other emergency services connected to them which has limited the options for electric providers.

Initially, outages were expected to last a matter of minutes or up to about an hour. However, some customers have been without power since late Sunday night.

"They have used all the circuits they can to meet the high high amount of outages that are required to balance supply and demand and preserve the reliability of the system as a whole," Woodfin said.

Woodfin gave no definitive timeline to when power could be restored for those without electricity. Some of the outages could be throughout the day and into Tuesday. However, some stations were only a matter of hours from being restored, he said.