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Texans asked to conserve power amid record heat and ‘unplanned outages’ at plants

Texas could be headed for more blackouts as the state braces for a heatwave and its embattled grid operator is rocked by ‘unplanned outages’. 

Residents were told to conserve energy Monday through Friday in a warning issued just four months after rolling blackouts left millions without power and 700 dead during February’s devastating winter storms.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) put its grid condition alert level to yellow – a conservation alert – Monday urging customers to limit their electricity usage’ as much as possible’. 

It cited two issues leaving it struggling to keep up with the demand for power: record high temperatures and a large number of power plants being forced offline for unexplained reasons.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) put its grid condition alert level to yellow – a conservation alert – Monday 

ERCOT officials said Monday it was struck by a significant number of unexpected, unplanned outages at its power plants.

Around 12,000 megawatts of generation were offline – equivalent to enough energy to power 2.4 million homes across the state on a hot day. 

Officials admitted the outages were not expected and did not confirm what had caused them.

However, ERCOT Senior Director of Systems Planning Warren Lasher conceded that it was ‘very concerning.’  

‘I don’t have any potential reasons [for the plant outages] that I can share at this time,’ Lasher said during a Monday call with the press, according to the Texas Tribune.

‘It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers.’

He added: ‘We operate the grid with the resources that we have available. 

‘It’s the responsibility of the generators to make sure their plants are available when demand is high.’ 

He sought to reassure residents fearful of a repeat of February’s disaster saying it ‘appears unlikely’ the ERCOT grid will need to implement rolling blackouts to homes and businesses. 

Today's forecast for the US. Temperatures will top the mid to high 90s for much of Texas this week

Today’s forecast for the US. Temperatures will top the mid to high 90s for much of Texas this week 

Woody Rickerson, ERCOT vice president of grid planning and operations, admitted that the alert was ‘unusual for this early in the summer season’ and that the company was investigating why so many plants were offline.  

The forced outages at the plants come in tandem with a spike in electricity use due to record hot weather in the state. 

Temperatures are forecast to top the mid to high 90s for much of the state this week, leading residents to ramp up their air conditioning units to stay cool. 

This comes just one week after state lawmakers took steps to try to try to prevent a repeat of the crisis.  

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law to reform the state’s energy grid including the creation of a statewide emergency alert system and requiring power companies to upgrade their power plants to withstand more extreme weather. 

It also requires changes to ERCOT’s governing board.  

While the hot weather is playing a part in the state’s current power issues, it was the cold weather that set off the power issues back in February.

People shovel snow in Austin, Texas, in February amid the storms that left 700 dead

People shovel snow in Austin, Texas, in February amid the storms that left 700 dead 

Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16 in Fort Worth, Texas

Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16 in Fort Worth, Texas

Millions were left without power amid the the greatest forced blackout in US history

Millions were left without power amid the the greatest forced blackout in US history

More than 700 people – more than four times the final death toll shared by Lone Star State officials – are thought to have died as a result of the winter storms and the subsequent power outages then. 

An analysis by Buzzfeed News last month said 702 people died from causes likely related to the storm. The state’s final official tally was 151.

Victims included 11-year-old Cristian Pavon who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his mobile home which lost power in the storm.

Etenesh Mersha and her 7-year-old daughter Rakeb Shelemu also died from carbon monoxide poisoning after they huddled in their car in the garage for warmth amid a blackout in their Houston home.  

When the historic winter storms struck, ERCOT instructed energy providers to cut supply, causing rolling power blackouts across the state. 

At the peak of the crisis more than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, many for multiple days on end.

Last week, Governor Greg Abbott signed bills into law to reform the state's power grid

Last week, Governor Greg Abbott signed bills into law to reform the state’s power grid

Many bundled into warming shelters and furniture stores for warmth, despite concerns about COVID-19.

While struggling to survive with a lack of power and heat, the crisis worsened as the state faced the prospect of running out of food and water.

Around 15 million residents were left without any clean drinking water and were placed under boil water notices as water treatment facilities were knocked offline and freezing temperatures burst water mains and pipes.

Many resorted to boiling snow to drink or lined up at spigots for hours to get some clean water.     

Senator Ted Cruz sparked fury when he jetted off on a holiday to a beach resort in Cancun, Mexico, at the height of the crisis, leaving his constituents struggling to survive back home. 

Senator Ted Cruz sparked fury when he jetted off on a holiday to a beach resort in Cancun, Mexico, at the height of the crisis (above at the airport)

Senator Ted Cruz sparked fury when he jetted off on a holiday to a beach resort in Cancun, Mexico, at the height of the crisis (above at the airport)

Following the backlash, Cruz turned around less than 24 hours after he jetted off. 

He then claimed he was trying to be a ‘good dad’ and admitted he made a ‘mistake’ but ignored calls to resign over the scandal.    

The crisis exposed cracks in the state’s energy supply, despite Texas long regarding its energy independence as a source of great pride. 

ERCOT admitted at the time the state had been just ‘seconds and minutes’ away from ‘months-long’ blackouts.

The CEO tried to defend the company’s actions that sparked the greatest forced blackout in US history before he was fired in March.  


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