ERCOT Officials: No date set for when massive outages in Texas will end

ERCOT CEO stresses that the situation could be worse, they are working 24 hours a day to restore power generation

VICTORIA, Texas-Two top officials with ERCOT spoke to members of the media during a virtual press conference providing updates about the long and frequent power outages impacting millions of Texans. The Communications Manager for ERCOT, Leslie Sapko, fielded questions to CEO Bill Magness and Senior Director of Systems Operations, Dan Woodfin. 

Magness and Woodfin took turns addressing each question asked. Below are some of the key takeaways from each question asked.

Magness and Woodfin opened the dialogue by explaining what caused the strain on the state’s grid. “What we have seen in this event, the severe winter event is that imbalance of supply and demand, developing to a point Sunday night where we needed to protect the integrity of the grid. We needed to make sure we didn’t have an uncontrolled blackout that could last for an indeterminate amount of time,” said Magness.

“The leadership in Texas knew it was coming as for a disaster declaration, which was granted last week. A lot of steps have been taken to prepare ourselves for what we’re going to be seeing, prepare our market participants for what we saw. And we understood that there may be an imbalance of load and generation that would cause us to do rotating outages, yesterday and today because of the size of the disparity between what we were seeing on the historic demand side higher than we’d ever seen in winter in Texas by far, versus what we were seeing on the supply side,” said Woodfin. 

The two officials shared that ERCOT made the decision to call for outages on Sunday evening, after seeing the tremendous growth in energy demand caused by the snowstorm and the cold associated with it. There was a huge drop in the amount of supply available. 

“Some areas back online as the day has progressed today. And as we’ve gotten a small amount of additional generation to be available, but we’ve also at the same time we’ve been adding supply to the grid from certain generators. We’ve also been losing other generators where they’ve become unavailable,” said Woodfin. 

“We’re, we’re hoping to keep online, but if additional generation doesn’t become available as the day goes on, we may actually have to take some of it back offline to maintain that power supply down, Woodfin continued.”

They confirmed that about 15,000 megawatts of consumers are still out of power, which is somewhere between two and three million people that are currently out of power. There are roughly 45,000 megawatts of generation that’s offline as of Tuesday. 

“About 16,000 megawatts of that is wind turbines that are offline, and then we’ve got about a little under 30,000 megawatts of thermal generation like gas, coal nuclear plants that are out.”

A journalist with Newscenter 25 asked them why certain areas of cities are experiencing multiple blackouts while other areas haven’t had any blackouts? 

“The locations that are disconnected are left up to the local utility providers. ERCOT role is to tell those utilities when this supply/demand is out of balance, and we feel like there’s a threat to the security of the grid that we need, you know, X amount of megawatts to be reduced on the demand side so that outages are caused by that.”

Severe weather is what’s driving this issue on multiple fronts, but as the weather improves and we start getting warmer temperatures, most of those things that are driving the outage of generation, the issues on the natural gas system as a whole, and so forth all should diminish as the temperatures increase. 

I also asked what tangible plan does ERCOT have in placed to prevent this kind of supply /demand imbalance from happening again, during an inclement weather event in the future?

“In general, we have plans in place to cover kind of normal, extreme weather conditions. This one’s a little beyond our normal extreme weather. After some issues, we had with cold weather back in 2011, where we had some plants that tripped offline during that situation back in February of 2011. We put in place these winterization processes, the checking process, the generation in our area. And in fact, nationally created some best practices that they would implement. And all of those were, were kind of geared around that 2011 level of detail that the severity of that storm. And like I said earlier, this one’s kind of beyond what we saw in 2011. One of the things we will definitely go in is work with the generation entities and anyone else, that helps us with that and try to beef up that plan.”

When asked if all energy companies are being requested to cut the same percentage from their grids Woodfin and Magness explained that “the share that each transmission provider has reduced in their area is dependent on their share of the overall system demand on the system. So if you have one utility that has 20% of the demand on the system, that’s hooked up to their wires, then if we’re reducing a thousand megawatts, they will have to reduce their demand by 20% of that thousand megawatts. And that can make sure that the reductions are equitably distributed amongst the different wire companies. It also makes sure that the reductions are spread across the whole state and everything can better be held in balance.”  

A far as the timetable for when service will be fully restored, they were not able to provide a specific day or time for when that will happen. 

“We were able to restore some service yesterday. We’ve seen a continued increase in the amount of service we can restore, you know, the wild card, the biggest variable, that, that makes it difficult to get to a certain answer is that as Dan has noted, we’re relying on the ability to get that supply and demand in balance by getting more generation on the system to meet the demand that will increase when we end the outages. So we’re continuing to work with generators 24 hours a day. All of the generators have every incentive to get back on the system and providing power. I hate to say it because it has been such a long event, but by acting prematurely to completely close it off that we end up in that blackout that could last, you know, an indeterminate amount of time, maybe months. We don’t even know how long a true blackout would last. We’re just working very carefully with all of the folks in the market, but particularly those generators to get them back on.”

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