Texas grid was ‘minutes’ from failing, lawmaker says
Barbara Martinez said she was burning firewood to try to heat her suburban Houston home, which was without electricity from early Sunday to Tuesday.
“We got electricity for four hours and then it stopped and it remained off for a few hours, came back for two hours, then went away,” he said. “It is currently closed.”
Texas officials blamed the power company and called for an investigation. U.S. Rep. Mark Vesey, a Democrat who represents parts of Fort Worth and Dallas, said he learned from an industry executive that state agency officials were minutes before the power grid failed on Monday The emergency rolling out was started.
“I want people to know that we were minutes away from the entire grid crash,” he told CNN’s Ed Lavandera, criticizing ERCOT and Republican leaders for not preparing better for the freeze.
“They certainly could have taken some precautions that prevented who we are dealing with now,” Vesey said.
An ERCOT spokesman did not immediately return a CNN request for comment. But earlier on Wednesday, CEO Bill Madness said the issue was mainly due to a lack of energy supply as the power facility was closed during the cold weather. ERCOT’s controlled power outage, he said, actually averaged the system’s collapse.
“If we waited, and the outages had not been done, there would have been no less demand to explain what was going on, on the overall system, that we might move towards a darkness,” he said. “People think that what we’re seeing sounds like a blackout, but a blackout that can happen when you can’t keep supply and demand in balance.”
Power issues are likely to continue, especially given that cold temperatures will last for a day or two. More than 21 million people, or about 70% of the population of Texas, are currently subject to some type of winter weather warning.
Controlled outages have caused rotational power issues as ERCOT has tried to spread the pain around, prompting people to rely on warming centers or at the mercy of neighbors.
“We have power for about 30 or 15 minutes and then we get a blackout for about five to six hours,” said Eder Lemus of San Antonio.
The pipe in his house froze, so he, his wife and three children depended on others for water.
“So far, we’re using a neighboring faucet to refill a bucket of water to dry out our toilet,” we said. “When and when the lights come back on, we try to take showers and replenish our gallons of drinking water so that we can remain calm.”
Gov. Greg Abbott said he has spoken with both the lieutenant governor and the State House speaker, and that an investigation by ERCOT is scheduled to begin next week.
“ERCOT is an independent private entity that, frankly, I have investigated and prosecuted as Attorney General of Texas, and now we are investigating again,” Abbott said. “I am not suggesting in any way that there is any criminal activity or anything like that, but it is something that needs to be looked into.”
Abbott said at a news conference on Wednesday 6,000 megawatts have been added to the state’s grid – enough electricity for about 1.2 million homes.
Abbott said the South Texas nuclear project would bring additional ships and the power produced from coal would increase additional operations.
According to Abbott, these sources will add more than 2,000 megawatts to the grid and provide additional electricity for about 400,000 homes. “About 17,200 megawatts of renewable energy remain out on Wednesday afternoon due to wind chill, or the lack of sun for solar,” Abbott said.
Why is the system failing
Asked on Wednesday why ERCOT has not mandated more winterization to prevent an outage, ERCOT’s senior director of systems operations Dan Woodfin said it was not needed.
“I think the role of ERCOT is not necessarily to mandate these kinds of things,” he said.
Woodfin said the company’s annual spot checks to ensure generators are confirming that best-practice winterization plans were carried out this year because of the epidemic.
“When it comes to electricity, that’s what happens in Texas in Texas,” said Dan Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University. “It’s really come back to bite us.”
And with temperatures not expected to rise above freezing by Friday, officials are worried about how residents will cope without utilities. “I share the frustration of every Texan about the loss of electricity during this winter storm. Millions of people without power during this Arctic eruption are life-threatening and unacceptable,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Asked whether the leadership of ERCOT should resign, the government said the company had failed.
“They showed that they were not reliable,” Abbott said. “These are experts. They are engineers in the power industry. The government will have to rely on these experts so that they can get into these types of situations.”
According to a source from the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA, Texas is preparing to start distributing 60 generators, millions of liters of water and tens of blankets. More shipments are expected in the coming days and weeks.
Facing storm without electricity, heat or water
Meanwhile, many Texans are reducing their hopes of staying hot at backup generators and warming centers. Some people have turned to unconventional heat sources such as stoves, grills or gas generators – which increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Houston officials said a woman and girl died of carbon monoxide poisoning after trying to stay warm using a car in a garage on Tuesday.
Water issues have also become widespread as pipes have become frozen and drainage of electricity has caused damage to water treatment plants. The mayor of Waco urged residents to conserve water after the city’s two plant issues, and McMary University in Abilene allowed campus residents to use the campus’ swimming pool water to flush their toilets .
Sandra Erikson said her home in Friendwood, outside of Houston, is so cold that pipes burst, causing the roof in three separate rooms to collapse.
“It’s like the devastation of a hurricane,” she told CNN.
The San Antonio Fire Department confirmed to CNN that power outages and cold weather were affecting their ability to fire. Fire Department spokesman Joseph Arrington said firefighters had to change tactics when a fire broke out in an apartment complex early Wednesday.
“Our normal attack would involve a number of hoses and a lot of water when it caught fire, so we have to adjust clearly,” he said.
CNN’s Keith Allen, Dave Alsup, Alisha Abrahamimji, Matt Egan, Karma Hassan, Dave Heinen, Ashley Killough, Gregory Lemos, Allison Morrow, Paul P. Murphy, Jessica Myers, Andy Rose and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.