What to Know
- ERCOT ordered utility companies to begin rotating outages early Monday morning; the outages are expected to continue into Tuesday.
- ERCOT and Oncor call for all Texans to conserve electricity through Tuesday due to record-breaking electric demand.
- ERCOT set a winter peak demand record Sunday night.
The winter storm that brought several inches of snow to the state Sunday has prompted a power emergency that is forcing millions of Texans to live without heat and electricity as plunging temperatures struggle to climb out of the single digits Monday.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees the state's electric grid but does not own the transmission lines or the power generation facilities, said Monday afternoon that power had been restored to about 500,000 of the estimated two million customers that were without power, but added that there was plenty of work to be done and that they were still asking electric companies to continue shedding 14,000 megawatts of load -- enough to power about 2.8 million homes.
“ERCOT and Texas electric companies have been able to restore service to hundreds of thousands of households today, but we know there are many people who are still waiting,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness. “It’s also important to remember that severe weather, mainly frigid temperatures, is expected to continue, so we’re not out of the woods.”
Early Monday morning ERCOT ordered rotating, controlled power outages to keep the grid intact and to help even more people not experience longer uncontrolled blackouts.
What began as rotating outages are now just controlled outages because providers like Oncor have only so many options when it comes to whose power to turn off. Since they can't turn off power at hospitals, fire and police stations and other locations that are critical to infrastructure, they typically move through neighborhoods with each going down for a few minutes at a time. But with so much power needing to be removed from the grid, there are fewer locations to choose from and that means those neighborhoods that are able to be taken offline are being taken offline for longer periods of time.
On a call with reporters Monday night, a spokesperson for Oncor, which operates the electric grid for much of North Texas, said the company was hoping to get back to a more regular rotation of shorter rolling outages soon, perhaps as early as Monday night.
"It won't be these hours-long outages that we've experienced today, it will be more of a regular cadence," said Kerri Dunn with Oncor. But then Dunn added that it was also possible that longer outages could return if grid conditions worsen overnight.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted Monday afternoon that "Oncor informs me that the attempts to restart the rolling blackouts from affected neighborhoods to those that are currently with power have been unsuccessful due to the status of the grid. If you have power, please consider taking in those without power before dark."
ERCOT said Monday the outages are expected to continue until generating units that were forced offline overnight are able to resume producing electricity and that will not likely occur until sometime Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Oncor said Monday afternoon that customers do not need to report outages at this time and that they are working to make repairs to damaged equipment so that electricity can be delivered once there is sufficient power available.
At 10:30 a.m., ERCOT officials held a briefing with members of the media to discuss what had taken place overnight and detail why the rolling outages were necessary. Bullet points from that phone call are below. ERCOT expects to provide another update Monday afternoon.
- 10:30 a.m. - Phone call begins with Dan Woodfin, Senior Director of System Operations who will discuss the current state of Texas' power grid and outline the expectations for the rest of the day.
- At 1:30 a.m. said demand exceeded supply, outages were ordered to protect the grid.
- Reached winter record of 69,222 MW between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, demand stayed high after that peak.
- After that units began tripping offline and they saw diminishing reserves.
- Entered their Energy Emergency Alert plan, which allows them to make use of additional resources during emergencies, but additional generation tripped offline as the evening progressed.
- To maintain the balance of supply and demand and the reliability of the system as a whole, they had to reduce demand on the system through controlled outages.
- ERCOT determined how much of a reduction they needed and then the transmission owners (Oncor, etc.) are left to decide how they are going to meet that demand in reduction.
- At the highest point, they asked transmission operators to reduce 16,500 megawatts of the load as 34,000 megawatts of generation was forced off the system.
- Rotating outages will continue until enough generation is brought back online to maintain the supply.
- Rotating outages will continue through Monday and into the first part of Tuesday, perhaps all day Tuesday.
- ERCOT said about two million customers are believed to be affected by the outages.
- ERCOT said they lost some ability to generate power because of a loss of gas supply and because of ice on wind turbines.
- As more generators tripped offline, they had to order more outages to protect the system as a whole.
- Transmission providers are having difficulty doing the normal rotation of controlled outages to try to meet the high level of outages needed to protect the system.
- The number of generators tripping offline has decreased so they have not had to increase the number of outages for now.
- The ability to reduce the number of outages is dependant upon the ability to bring back the ability to generate power.
- Most of the generators that went offline overnight Sunday were thermal generation (fueled by gas, coal or nuclear) but some were wind generation. They aren't yet sure why they tripped offline but they are working to figure out why that happened.
- Transmission owners have a number of circuits that they have identified that they can use for rotating outages -- they don't use areas where there are hospitals or emergency responders, and there some other technical things that preclude them from cutting service in other areas. So only some areas can be rotated offline. Because of the amount of demand ERCOT needs them to shed they have fewer options when it comes to where they can rotate power outages so the outages are lasting longer to meet the required reduction.
- How long individual customers are without power, ERCOT said, is up to the delivery companies since they are the ones deciding which circuits to take offline to meet the reduction.
- ERCOT said their emergency management plan was not inadequate but that there was simply insufficient supply to meet the very high demand. The plan is there to protect the grid. They said the plan has done exactly that and will continue to do it.
- ERCOT said the outages began as rotating outages but they are lasting longer than what would normally happen because of the magnitude of what's happened [with the loss of the ability to generate power].
- Each of the transmission owners knows what percentage of the total reduction they are responsible for -- it varies by their own demand on the grid. Oncor, the state's largest provider, is responsible for reducing 36% of the load because they serve 36% of the demand in Texas.
- ERCOT said they are trying to reduce the length of outages but their priority is to protect the integrity of the grid. There is no maximum length of time where customers can be without power before it must be turned back on.
- ERCOT said they planned to provide another update Monday afternoon.
Winter Weather Recovery
After several days of sub-freezing temperatures, some melting is expected Friday and Saturday.
ERCOT said it initiated rolling averages at 1:25 a.m. that, at its highest point, removed 16,500 megawatts of power from the load -- that's enough to power about 3.3 million homes.
ERCOT said early Monday morning that "extreme weather conditions caused many generating units, across fuel types, to trip offline and become unavailable" and that there are now more than 30,000 megawatts of generation that have been forced off the system. During the 10:30 a.m. phone call with the media, that number was increased to 34,000 megawatts of power -- enough to power as many as 6.8 million homes. However, ERCOT said on the call that only about two million customers statewide are believed to be impacted by the outages.
"Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," said Magness before dawn Monday.
ERCOT continues to urge all Texans to limit and reduce power usage as much as possible through Tuesday.
ERCOT set a winter peak demand record Sunday night, reaching 69,150 megawatts from 6-7 p.m. The number topped the previous high set in January 2018. The demand is only likely to increase Monday and Tuesday as temperatures fall into the low single digits.
"This statewide weather system is expected to bring Texas the coldest weather we've experienced in decades," Magness said. "With temperatures rapidly declining, we are already seeing high electric use and anticipating record-breaking demand in the ERCOT region."
ERCOT said you can monitor grid conditions in real-time, through Twitter or their mobile app.
Monday morning, Oncor said the severity of the electric generation shortfall is pushing outage lengths longer than expected and they're asking customers to be prepared to be without power for an extended period of time.
"Due to the severity of the electric generation shortfall, our expected outage length of 15 to 45 minutes has been significantly extended. Outages due to this electric emergency could last for hours and we ask you to be prepared," Oncor tweeted.
Additionally, Oncor said Monday afternoon they were responding to separate outages "caused by the record-breaking winter storm that continues to impact our entire service territory. Oncor phone lines and reporting systems are experiencing a record influx of inquiries as a result of these two events, which may prevent customers from getting into contact with one of our agents."
Because of that, Oncor said customers do not need to report outages at this time. They said crews are working to make repairs to that when the power is available it will be able to be delivered to homes. Oncor said any customer who is experiencing a life-threatening emergency event to please call 911.
Q: Why is my power out?
There are two major issues affecting many customers right now: winter storm outages and controlled power outages directed by ERCOT, which serve to reduce high demand and protect the integrity of the electric grid. Due to the fast-moving nature of these two power emergency events, we are not currently able to break down the difference in outages on our Oncor Outage Map.
Q: When will my power be restored?
Given the unique combination of lack of generation and historic winter storm damage, estimated restoration times are not yet known. For outages related to the winter storm, our crews continue working around the clock to restore power. However, continued winter impacts such as extreme cold, treacherous road conditions and ice buildup is impacting progress. Controlled outages related to grid supply and demand have been significantly extended due to the current emergency grid conditions and severe cold weather. In order to preserve the reliability of the grid, ERCOT has said that additional generation will be needed before power can be restored. These outages are taking place across the service territory and ERCOT has said they could be required through Tuesday. We are asking all Oncor customers to be prepared to be without power for an extended period of time.
Q: Why are some homes out for hours and others for minutes or not at all?
Again, there are two major issues affecting many customers right now: winter storm outages and controlled power outages directed by ERCOT. We are using all designated power lines for controlled outages so that hospitals and other critical infrastructure remain intact and system stability is preserved. This means that customers near critical facilities, or those in limited areas where rolling outages won’t take place in order to maintain grid stability, may not experience outages, while those farther from these facilities or areas may be out multiple times or for longer instances. Additionally, during instances of substantial generation drop, there are safeguards built into the system that drop power loads automatically in order to prevent cascading widespread outages, or ultimately a blackout. These are designed to be shorter-term drops that are reset quicker than controlled outages to prepare for the next response opportunity.
Q: When will power generation plants come back on-line?
Due to the severe winter storm, we do not know and it is outside of our control. Conditions for power generation continue to be very serious and the combination of winter weather and reduced generation is unprecedented in the state of Texas. We are prepared for emergency operations to continue for at least several days.
“Oncor recognizes how unsettling rotating outages can be to our customers, especially in the face of this severe winter weather, and we will work hard to minimize the impact of these outages as much as possible,” said Connie Piloto, Oncor Director of Communications. "While Oncor's transmission and distribution system is prepared to handle the increased load, requests for conservation are a case of supply and demand - when there may not be enough power generation to meet the high demand for electricity."
Rotating outages will be focused in residential neighborhoods and business areas, Oncor wrote in a tweet. The energy company said it is not known at this time how long they need for rotating outages will last and that they will immediately notify customers once ERCOT determines these outages should cease.
“We ask customers to please continue to conserve what they can. We’ve heard firsthand from many of our customers about the conservation efforts they have made and we greatly appreciate everyone’s continued participation," said Piloto.