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State barely avoids power grid catastrophe

ERCOT

Electric Reliability Council of Texas officials suspended its call for rotating power interruptions across Texas on Thursday, Feb. 18, but could reinstate it if circumstances called for it. Photo courtesy of ERCOT

In an electric grid update Thursday, Feb. 18, Electric Reliability Council of Texas officials described how close the state was to a catastrophe earlier in the week while reporting that conditions have improved. ERCOT has informed local utilities that they can curtail rolling blackout measures.

The Texas electric grid was minutes, maybe seconds, from a total shutdown late Sunday, Feb. 14, and early Monday, Feb. 15, said ERCOT CEO and President Bill Magness during the Thursday update. He added that, had it not been for the rolling blackouts and swift action from local utilities, the Texas electric grid might have experience damage that would have led to extensive power outages of undetermined lengths.

“The steps we took saved the integrity of the system,” Magness said. 

It was a sharp contrast to what the power grid looked like Thursday, when ERCOT officials were allowing local utility companies to restore the electricity related to the load shift, or rolling blackouts, events.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Magness added. 

He and ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin pointed out that the rolling blackouts could be implemented again depending weather conditions Thursday into Friday as well as the electricity demand and supply. 

ERCOT was keeping the Energy Emergency Alert 3 in place in order to provide officials with the flexibility and capability to react in case the demand once again outpaced the supply of electricity.

Even as ERCOT told local providers they could return to more normal operations, Woodfin explained that some people might still be without power for a couple of reasons. He said it could take utility companies more time to restore the electric load they had been directed to shed because their crews will have to go out into the field to do so.

He added that some of the outages weren’t caused by the ERCOT-directed conservation measures but by extreme weather and ice. Those, he said, would require crews to repair the infrastructure. 

Magness and Woodfin said they are aware of the concerns and criticism of ERCOT’s handling of the storm. Magness pointed out he and other ERCOT officials began communicating with power generator suppliers, electric utilities, and the Texas Public Utility Commission regarding the storm and its possible effects as early as Feb. 8 and maintained those communications throughout the week. 

On Saturday, Feb. 13, ERCOT officials participated in a media conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders regarding the storm where everyone stressed the need for conservation and other measures. 

Magness reiterated during the Thursday briefing that the power grid experienced unprecedented stress late Sunday and early Monday, when the demand for electricity reached some of its highest levels for the winter months, while at the same time, a number of electric generating facilities went offline due to problems caused by the extreme cold weather and ice.

Even though ERCOT had a plan in place for winter storms and events, Woodfin said it was based on the winter of 2011, particularly the month of February, which until now, had been one of the most extreme. 

Going forward, Woodfin said ERCOT will use the data from this recent wave of winter storms in planning for the future.

But in the immediate timeframe, he and Magness said ERCOT’s main focus is getting the power grid back to working normally.

daniel@thepicayune.com 

2 thoughts on “State barely avoids power grid catastrophe

  1. How does ERCOT respond to the report from the federal government about the deficiencies it found after the February 2011 debacle? It appears they decided to totally ignore what the feds said, and do whatever they wanted. How do they explain this? Why are we tiptoeing around these people, instead of demanding answers? How about some answers, Daniel?

  2. Thanks Ercot! I believe you are doing whatever is necessary for your fellow Texans! This is unprecedented like Covid. Not many roadmaps to get out of this. Joey

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