AUSTIN (KXAN) — After this week’s icy and snowy storms forced the organization that manages Texas’ power grid to take millions offline, it says it has come out of “emergency conditions” Friday morning around 10:35 a.m.
Bill Magness, the president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), thanked people for conserving energy and said those steps are no longer necessary for it. However, those measures still may be helpful for local utilities. He also expressed appreciation for those who have been working tirelessly at power plants in freezing temperatures to fix them.
“The reasons ERCOT was able to come back is because of the courage and activities of those folks,” he said.
ERCOT said Thursday it had ended all controlled outages across the state. It also said it did not need to put any outages in place overnight to balance the power supply and electric demand. It said “only a few generating units tripped” during that time.
Magness and Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, provided an update on the grid management Friday morning.
“I want to acknowledge the immense human suffering that we saw through this event,” Magness said. “When people lose power, there are heartbreaking consequences.”
As of noon, more than 184,000 Texans remain without power. ERCOT said none of those are because of its energy mandates for local utility companies. Companies instead are working to fix issues stemming from the storm, whether damage to lines or manually restoring power to areas taken offline to meet ERCOT’s emergency energy needs.
ERCOT said as of 7:30 a.m., about 34,000 MW of generation is on forced outage because of the storms. Nearly 20,000 MW of that is thermal generation, while the rest is wind and solar. ERCOT defines a forced outage on its website as, “An outage initiated manually or by protective relay in response to an observation by personnel or the system operator that the condition of equipment could lead to an event or potential event that poses a threat to people, equipment or public safety.”
ERCOT was prepared, if generators hadn’t gone offline
As far as ERCOT was concerned, it was prepared ahead of the storm. Magness said he believed the forecast it was using was accurate.
“Our meteorologists were telling us by midweek last week, ‘We haven’t seen anything this strong in a long time,” Magness said.
ERCOT said what it forecast for demand was accurate, in hindsight, and it knew last week that the amount of power it had calculated the generators could provide would be enough to cover that demand, except on Monday and Tuesday morning when it expected to need to do rolling outages as that demand surged. Magness said generators had told ERCOT they would have all hands on deck to provide power.
The problem was that ERCOT lost 40% of the power generation it expected Sunday into Monday, and couldn’t keep up. ERCOT had to reduce the demand, and “the only way we could do that would be outages,” Magness said.
“Those outages served a purpose,” he added, saying if operators hadn’t acted, the result could have been much worse, although he acknowledges that’s hard to imagine. He said doing nothing wasn’t an option, because there was only so much supply.
“If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be talking about ending this outage,” he said. “We’d be talking about weeks, months from now about when it would be repaired.”
“The bottom line, I guess, while we had to watch that and fellow Texans had to experience it — when we had to make tough decisions when the storm came in, ERCOT really didn’t have a choice,” Magness said.
He said there are always things ERCOT can do better, but “the decisions operators made at 1:25 Sunday night, Monday morning to protect the system given dire conditions they were seeing — that’s a decision I’ll defend.”
There were issues at every level of the industry, Magness said, from issues with power generators and transmission owners. ERCOT is looking into what percentage of different kinds of power generators went offline.
“There didn’t seem to be, with this 2021 storm, any kind of generation that was immune from damage because of the way this came in over the last week,” Woodfin said, noting in some cases issues stemmed from a low supply of natural gas from wells, which would need to be addressed, too. He emphasized the interconnectedness of the system and solutions needed.
Texas’ system doesn’t have backup generators if some go down because it’s not a “part of the structure of this market,” Magness said. He added that what Texas has now is enough to meet demand in the peak of summer.
Even if it had some kind of backup, Woodfin said it would have had to be enough to make up 40% of the peak demand this week.
Investigation happening now
The process of understanding what went wrong and what Texas can learn from it begins “immediately,” Magness said.
ERCOT is sending out requests for information for each power generating plant to understand why they went offline. Woodfin said he’s sure those generators are looking at what happened and addressing issues now that they’re back in action.
“In theory all were weatherized to some extent,” Woodfin said. “The question is how well they were weatherized. We’ll find out why they tripped.”
There are legislative hearings set for next week, as well as an ERCOT board meeting.
“Texas can’t afford for this to happen again and there are a lot of ideas of how to make that different and we want to participate in that process,” Magness said.
On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott added to his list of emergency items that included investigating and reforming ERCOT. He added items related to power generator winterization and funding.
Magness said he expects the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which has authority over generators and ERCOT, would likely also be investigating.
Each year, ERCOT does an assessment of the weather forecast for the coming year and plans for demand. Moving forward, the lessons learned will feed into plans for the future, setting a new standard and helping it take into account new potential extremes, Magness said.
He expects investigations to be at “full throttle for quite a while.”