Texas grid operator to end emergency conditions, millions still under boil-water notice


A worker repairs a power line in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2021.

Thomas Ryan Allison | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is known as ERCOT and controls the majority of the state’s power, said it plans to come out of emergency conditions on Friday as power has been returned to millions of customers who were left in the dark.

However, the impacts from the deadly storm are still being felt across Texas.

ERCOT said conservation of power is “still critical.” Nearly 200,000 customers in the state still do not have power, according to the latest data from PowerOutage.us. Utility officials say that limited rolling blackouts are still possible if electricity demand rises.

At one point on Tuesday, more than four million customers were without power.

While the heat might be coming back, parts of the state’s water supply might now be at risk after water pressure dropped, leading to potential contamination.

Alison Silverstein, an independent energy consultant and former strategic advisor for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said that 20 million or more Texans could be forced to boil water.

ERCOT officials said Thursday during a virtual news conference that the grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a far worse disaster, given the rate at which generation was going off the system. KXAN in Austin first reported the comments. Had they not cut power when they did, the entire grid would have gone down, according to Silverstein.

Wintery conditions impacted power production from natural gas, coal, renewables and other sources, just as consumers turned up their thermostats amid frigid temperatures. The grid couldn’t match supply and demand dynamics.

Natural gas production across Texas dropped about 30%, making it hard for power companies to find the gas they needed to run their power plants. According to some estimates, as much as four million barrels per day of crude oil production was taken offline.

Energy prices initially rallied on the back of the production shutdowns, but took a breather on Thursday with West Texas Intermediate crude futures and natural gas both dipping.

WTI’s declines continued on Friday with the contract trading below $60 per barrel. Earlier in the week, WTI breached $60 for the first time since January 2020.

Henry Hub natural gas futures gained 1.95% to trade at $3.137 per million British thermal units on Friday. For the week natural gas is up more than 7%.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into ERCOT.

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

Looking forward, experts say that mandating equipment be winterized could be among the steps taken to avert future disasters.

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