The bumbling CEO of ERCOT, the energy company in Texas responsible for the deadly blackouts that have driven people to burn furniture and accidentally poison themselves with carbon monoxide just to stay warm, said on Tuesday night he had no idea when power would be restored to 4.4million people but claimed his agency managed to avoid an even bigger catastrophe by switching it off.
More than 4million people in Texas were without power yesterday afternoon in subzero temperatures for the fourth day in a row.
The problem began with Winter Storm Uri – a brutal weather system that is sweeping the country. Every other state has been able to withstand it because they operate on a shared power source which means that if one state’s supply goes down, it can draw from the shared reserve. Texas, which relies on its own supply, has buckled.
ERCOT underestimated the storm woefully so didn’t produce enough reserve energy beforehand and now, plants can’t produce more power because they were unprepared for the storm.
The agency claims it predicted that peak energy demand would be 67 gigawatts. It reached 69 gigawatts on Sunday. Each gigawatt powers some 500 homes. Had ERCOT produced enough to start with, it means around 1,000 homes would have been deprived of power.
But what it didn’t prepare for was not being able to produce more power during the storm.
The vast majority of the state’s energy (40 percent) comes from natural gas, and the plants that produce it are propped up by an infrastructure that cannot withstand severe winter weather; pipes have frozen in subzero temperatures and wells have been blocked with snow. It is preventing the fossil fuels from being pumped from the ground to the plants and into homes and businesses.
Now, furious Texans want to know why that infrastructure wasn’t properly prepared, especially after a similar storm in 2011 caused the same problems. The Texas Star Tribune reports that not all of the generators in the state were upgraded after 2011 to tackle the issue.
The upgrades are what’s called ‘winterizing’ the energy system but experts say it is regularly put off because the changes are expensive.
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Frozen: More than 4million people in Texas were without power yesterday afternoon in subzero temperatures for the fourth day in a row.
Texas uses its own power grid and has done since the 1970s. The energy-rich state wanted to use its own resources but also sit beyond federal energy regulation. Other states to the north of it share resources. Oklahoma has been just as affected by Winter Storm Uri but because it pools resources with neighboring states, it hasn’t run out of power
ERCOT switched off millions of people’s power on Monday in order to prevent the entire grid from collapsing, the CEO said. Some 4.4million households don’t have it. In Texas, the average household size is 2.8 people. There are around 30million people in Texas. It means an estimated 12million people – 41 percent of the state – doesn’t have power
‘There are things that can be done, but it will cost some money. About every decade we have these long-sustained periods.
‘And then, you know weatherization is supposed to happen, and then, it doesn’t because it costs money,’ David Tuttle, a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a recent podcast.
Now, ERCOT has deliberately switched off people’s power to try to stop them from draining any remaining reserves. It has created a diabolical situation in the face of freak weather in the southern state where temperatures on Tuesday plummeted to -2 F – the lowest they have been since 1903.
The nationwide death toll from the storm is 31.
It’s unclear how many people have died in Texas so far but the death toll there includes a mother and daughter who died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they left a car running in their garage to stay warm, and a grandmother and three children who died after the fire they were using to keep warm spread throughout their house in Sugar Land.
ERCOT CEO Bill Magness claimed on Tuesday night that the situation could be worse. He refused to take responsibility for the fact his agency didn’t upgrade systems to make sure plants would withstand the cold, and instead chalked the whole crisis down to a ‘supply and demand imbalance’
There are delays to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and many doses that were being stored are under threat because the freezers storing them can’t operate without power.
The outages have crippled water pressure which also threatens drinking water supply. It is a particular problem in hospitals, where pressure is dwindling.
There are also fears that without any new gas becoming available soon, prices are about to skyrocket by as much as 20 cents per gallon.
Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday night called the situation ‘completely unacceptable’ and ordered a full investigation into how ERCOT had failed the state so drastically.
He also blamed renewable energy and wind turbines for the disaster, telling Fox’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night: ‘This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.
‘Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis…
‘It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary,’ he said.
The disaster in Texas has happened because of failures in both fossil fuel production and renewable energy.
On Tuesday night, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said he thought his agency had actually avoided an even bigger problem by taking the steps they have.
In an interview with CBS Austin, he said: ‘The reason why is these outages have to exist is the electric system has to be managed where supply and demand have to be balanced all the time.
‘These outages, while they are extremely difficult and we are tying to get them to end as fast as we can, are a controlled method of making sure we don’t lose the system – that we don’t have a much bigger, catastrophic event on the system.’
He refused to take responsibility for the fact that the reason supply is down is because the plants were unprepared, and even seemed to boast about Texas’s response to the crisis.
‘If you have a big imbalance between the supply and the demand, you can have catastrophic failures of the system, blackouts like we’ve seen in some parts of the country but haven’t seen here in Texas that can take a very long time to repair.’
He also said that the same amount of energy was being used now as it is in the summer, when Texans use their air conditioners.
‘What we saw this time was the demand side with the storm the temperatures, all the snow, has brought power demand higher in Texas than it’s ever, ever been – even close during the winter – we’re using electricity at a rate that Texas uses it in the summer time when we’re pumping all our air conditioners.
Any means necessary: Howard and Nena Mamu eat dinner at their home in the Glenwood neighborhood in Hutto, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021
HOUSTON: Karla Perez and Esperanza Gonzalez warm up by a barbecue grill during power outage caused by the winter storm on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas
HOUSTON: Bryan Mejia and Elias Mejia try to connect power cable to a car battery to change their smartphones during power outage caused by the winter storm on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas
People are panic buying food and there are concerns that an oil shortage could come next that would drive up fuel prices by as much as 20 cents per gallon
People line up to enter Costco in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday morning, Feb 16, 2021
The traffic light at the intersection of Kermit Highway and University Boulevard is left without power Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Odessa, Texas
Electric Utility trucks are parked in the snow along the street in front of the Oncor facility on the southwest side of town in preparation of power outages due to weather, in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, 16 February 2021
‘We’ve seen that extraordinary spike in demand and then the same storm has caused real challenges to the delivery of electricity to the supply, with wind turbines freeze and can’t run, the storm blows through and there’s .. you have problems with the equipment at some of these plants, they trip off and have to get fixed.
‘There’s a number of factors where a storm like this that’s been so historic and we haven’t seen much precedent for, pushes the system where demand up and supply down… the only way we can keep it in control is to do outages.’
He said that if ERCOT hadn’t switched power off, the systems would have completely broken and wouldn’t have been able to be turned back on, but he also failed to give a firm answer on when that will happen.
‘If we had let the system go into a stage where a blackout would happen, we wouldn’t be talking about when are we going to restore the power, when are we going to turn it back on. We would be talking about rebuilding portions of the electric system. We wouldn’t be able to do this in days.
‘The goal today is to find ways to get as many Texans back on as we possibly can,’ he said.
Magness admitted that the company knew the storm was coming and tried to prepare for it but that the crippling of the infrastructure hindered the efforts.
‘I know there were certainly efforts to plan, and then we saw some events when the storm blew in that made it a lot more challenging.’
Last night, Governor Greg Abbott fumed that the blame lies with ERCOT and that an investigation must be launched.
‘The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours… Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable,’ Abbott said.
He has been criticized for seeming to sidestep the crisis.
‘You can always count on Greg Abbott to pass the buck when he fails,’ Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, tweeted.
Beto O’Rourke said on Wednesday that Texas was a near ‘failed state’.
‘So much of this was avoidable. Going back to the deregulation of our electric grid here in Texas, which has actually created an incentive to not weatherize or protect against these events.
‘The energy capital of North America cannot provide enough energy to warm and power people’s homes.
‘We are nearing a failed state in Texas. And it has nothing to do with God or natural disasters. It has everything to do with those in positions of public trust who have failed us,’ he said during an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday night.
‘We know this stuff is coming. What we don’t know is whether our leaders are ready to make the tough political decisions to prepare us for that.’