ERCOT: Texas Was 4 Minutes and 37 Seconds Away From a Blackout That Could Have Lasted Months

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The board that oversees The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT) held an urgent meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the winter storm that crippled most of Texas last week. They offered apologies for the devastation the power outages caused and pledged to gather the facts to help lawmakers determine how to prevent it from ever happening again.

ERCOT’s CEO, Bill Magness faced questions from his own board about why these power outages were so severe and why the agency was not able to predict such a devastating outcome before the storm hit.

“I mean, we saw something here that, you know, outstrips any extreme scenario,” said Magness.

In an online presentation to ERCOT’s board, Magness showed slides revealing an updated analysis showing nearly half of the power generating units, 48.6%, in the state shut down at the height of the outages.

All of this was caused by a weather system he described as bigger than anything the agency's forecasters ever predicted, throwing into question the forecast models used to predict winter weather and the state’s power needs.

“This is the kind of thing that, you know moves the goalposts, number one, so that we have to know that we could see another February 2021 event when we look at extremes,” said Magness.

ERCOT’s weather data shows the Dallas/Fort Worth area was at or below freezing for more than 140 hours. That’s 40 hours longer than the 2011 winter storm that caused rolling power outages. 

This time, demand for power hit an all-time record high while all types of power plants - and even natural gas delivery lines to some plants -- shut down in the cold, forcing ERCOT to order outages to prevent a far worse collapse of the entire power system.

One chart presented at the meeting shows Texas was less than five minutes away from a blackout that might have crippled the power system for weeks or months.

Magness expressed frustration at the meeting about how long it took to bring some power plants back online. The graphs shared Wednesday showed for days many were not able to re-start and that's what turned this into such a devastating crisis with lives lost and homes damaged.

One board member criticized Magness, saying he did not do enough to warn the board of the possibility of a crisis before the storm hit.

“I feel as a board member, very frustrated that that did not occur,” said board member, Jacqueline A. Sargent. “And I just wanted to make that statement.”

As NBC 5 Investigates first reported, ERCOT’s audio recordings show Magness spent less than one minute discussing the impending storm at the last board meeting just five days before the storm arrived 

Wednesday, he offered an apology.

“I certainly could have done a better job emphasizing what was coming and had that communication with the board in more depth as well. So I understand your frustration,” said Magness.

On Thursday he will face more questions from lawmakers in both the state house and senate. The start of what some, including Dallas State Senator Nathan Johnson describe as the start of a fact-finding mission.

"It's certainly possible that ERCOT made decisions or didn't make decisions it should have, and I have some information on that. But until I have complete information, I'm not casting judgment. There's a lot of other players in this process, both private and public,” said Johnson. 

A fifth ERCOT board member resigned Wednesday, joining four others who announced their resignations Tuesday saying they wanted to avoid controversy over the fact that they live in other states.

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