Are More Rolling Power Outages in the Cards?

Oncor says it does not know if state regulators will order outages again

Some North Texans are wondering if more rolling blackouts can be expected after state regulators ordered such outages last week during bitterly cold conditions.

Wednesday is expected to have the coldest night of the season, with the temperature falling to 13 degrees with a wind chill between 0 and -5 degrees.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that supervises the electric power distribution grid for most of the state, said it projects that Thursday's statewide usage will surpass last week's winter record peak.

But Oncor Electric Delivery said it does not know if state regulators will order additional outages.

"We really can't predict that right now," Oncor spokeswoman Christi Ramon said. "We are on standby, waiting to hear from ERCOT, and we will comply with them as they need us to."

Local transmission providers such as Oncor, which serves much of North Texas, determines the scheduling of rotating outages if ERCOT orders them.

The agency mandated rolling electrical outages the morning of Feb. 2 to compensate for a power generation shortage. The measure affected three-quarters of the state, including North Texas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Abilene and the Rio Grande Valley.

"It was an emergency situation to prevent something catastrophic like a statewide, extended blackout," Ramon said.

ERCOT said the power shortage was caused when 82 of 550 power plants went down because of weather conditions. Those plants were still down Wednesday, raising questions of whether another round of emergency rolling outages would be needed.

Oncor Electric Delivery said conservation has helped ERCOT avoid ordering more outages.

"We've been urging customers to conserve energy, especially during the peak hours of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and people are responding to us," Oncor spokeswoman Christi Ramon said.

She said she wasn't sure how much demand has decreased in North Texas.

"We received word from ERCOT," Ramon said. "They've put out a press release saying, you know, 'The grid is looking good. This is what we're seeing right now.'"

But ERCOT had a different answer, saying it does not have data about power usage in Oncor's service area.

"On a daily basis, we purchase extra capacity -- or reserves -- to cover unexpected outages and extreme temperatures," the agency said. "Right now, we are procuring approximately 3,000 MW extra reserves above and beyond what we normally required as an added precaution."

Oncor customers have complained that notification of last week's outages was scarce.

"Well, last week our contact center was inundated with calls," Ramon said. "We were receiving about 60,000 calls an hour, so that's why we reached out to our social media sites like Facebook and Twitter."

Oncor cut power to customers for 15 to 45 minutes during the rolling outages, with outages that were directly weather-related lasting even longer.

Ramon said Oncor encourages people to reach out to their neighbors if they cannot turn on a computer or charge a cell phone to get to the company's Facebook page or Twitter account because of an outage.

"In situations like that, we are asking customers to be good neighbors," she said. "If you see that one of your neighbors is without power, you know, check in on them, see if you can help them, let them use your phone to contact us or sign on to your computer to reach out to us."

ERCOT said there will be a full investigation into last week's power emergency and how it can be prevented in the future. Two state Senate committees will also hold hearings on the outages.

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Copyright AP - Associated Press
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