Texas grid operator continues to grapple with extreme weather, outages

February 17, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
February 17, 2021

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) on Feb. 17 continued to grapple with bitter cold temperatures and power outages in its footprint.

According to powerOutage.US, which collects, records, and aggregates live power outage data from utilities all over the U.S., Texas had outages totaling 3,355,316 as of mid-day on Feb. 17.

ERCOT on Feb. 17 reported that it continued to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. During the overnight hours, ERCOT was able to restore approximately 3,500 megawatts of load, which is roughly 700,000 households, it said.

“We know millions of people are suffering,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness, in a statement. “We have no other priority than getting them electricity.”

However, ERCOT said that some of that was lost when the Midwest went into a power emergency of its own and ERCOT was no longer able to import approximately 600 MW.

As of 9 a.m. on Feb. 17, ERCOT was instructing local utilities to shed 14,000 MW of load representing around 2.8 million households.

“Although we’ve reconnected more consumers back to the grid, the aggregate energy consumption of customers (those recently turned back on and those already on) is actually lower this morning compared to yesterday because it’s less cold,” said ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin. “However, we are anticipating another cold front this evening which could increase the demand,” he said.

“The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online,” said Woodfin.

Since the winter storm began on Monday, approximately 185 generating units have tripped offline for one reason or another. Some factors include frozen wind turbines, limited gas supplies, low gas pressure and frozen instrumentation, ERCOT said.

As of 9 a.m. on Feb. 17, approximately 46,000 MW of generation has been forced off the system during this extreme winter weather event. Of that, 28,000 MW is thermal and 18,000 MW is wind and solar.

Southwest Power Pool

Meanwhile, Southwest Power Pool (SPP) on Feb. 17 tweeted that “We continue to urge all homes & businesses in our 14-state region to conserve electricity, but are not directing any interruptions of service at this time. The public should follow their service providers’ directions regarding local outages, tips for conservation and safety.”

Nebraska public power utility Lincoln Electric System (LES) noted in a Feb. 17 tweet that LES officials “are in direct contact with SPP this morning as they monitor the electric grid’s status. At this time, we remain in an Energy Emergency Alert Level 2. We will let you know if a decision is made to move back to Level 3 and begin subsequent rotating outages.”

Energy Emergency Alert Level 2 is declared when SPP can no longer provide expected energy requirements and is an energy deficient entity, or when SPP foresees or has implemented procedures up to, but excluding, interruption of firm load commitments. 

Nebraska public power utility Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) noted in a tweet on the morning of Feb. 17 that while there were no current requirements for controlled outages by SPP, “this is a very fluid situation & we could be directed by the SPP to implement controlled outages w/ very little advance notice.”

“We have been able to avoid service interruptions this morning, but things may change quickly,” Nebraska Public Power District said on Feb. 17. “SPP is currently at a level 2. The next couple of hours are critical & we will keep you informed if things change. We appreciate our customers’ efforts to continue conserving energy.”

Effective at 1:15 p.m. Central time, SPP declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 1 for its entire 14-state balancing authority area.

Generation is currently sufficient to serve system-wide demand across the region and to fully satisfy operating reserve requirements, SPP said.

“We continue to urge all homes and businesses throughout our 14-state region to conserve electricity, but are not directing any interruptions of service at this time. The public should follow their service providers’ directions regarding local outages, tips for conservation and safety.”

Electric power industry is closely coordinating in response to weather

As extreme cold weather and a series of winter storms continue to impact electricity customers across the country, investor-owned electric companies, electric cooperatives, and public power utilities are working together to ensure that power is restored to customers safely and as quickly as possible, the American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said on Feb. 17.

“Electric utilities in several states in the middle of the country are facing serious challenges due to extreme cold weather conditions and related power constraints,” said APPA President & CEO Joy Ditto. “The electric power industry is united in responding to this situation in order to protect the grid and get the power back on for everyone as quickly and safely as possible.”

In addition to extreme cold, several states — including Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, and West Virginia — have been hard hit by devastating ice and winter storms. In these areas, mutual assistance networks are activated, and crews continue to work around the clock to restore power to customers who lost power due to downed wires and other infrastructure impacts.

Electricity providers in all impacted areas are encouraging their customers to remain vigilant against scams targeting utility customers and are reminding customers that portable generators and grills never should be used indoors or in other enclosed areas where lethal fumes quickly can accumulate.

With another winter storm in the forecast this week, electric companies, electric co-ops, and public power utilities in the path are preparing and in close coordination with emergency response officials, state leaders, and customers.

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