AUSTIN (KXAN) — As millions of Texans keep suffering without power during the freezing cold, Gov. Greg Abbott gave an update on the state’s emergency response as another round of precipitation is expected to hit south Texas over the next 24 hours.
Gov. Abbott and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state’s electric flow, are being criticized for what’s being seen as poor disaster preparation after energy generators for the state’s grid experienced issues as temperatures dropped at the beginning of this week.
Update on power outages
Another 6,000 megawatts of power have been added to the Texas grid, Abbott said, which equates to restored power for about 1.2 million households. He’s hoping restoration of the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station, a nuclear generator, as well as coal power will be able to add another 2,000 megawatts, which would equate to another 400,000 homes restored.
Abbott said gas generators are going in and out sporadically, but with their restoration he’s hoping another 3,000 megawatts can be added back to the grid over the next 24 hours. This is power for about 600,000 households. About 19,800 megawatts of gas-powered generation is still offline due to mechanical issues or a lack of supply of gas.
Some natural gas produced in Texas is currently being shipped to locations outside of the state. Gov. Abbott said he’s working to put through an order Wednesday that will last through Feb. 21 requiring those Texas producers to sell natural gas to Texas power generators. He also said the president is helping to address spikes in the prices of natural gas.
About 17,200 megawatts remain out because of freezing wind turbines or lack of sun for solar power, Abbott said.
Still, Abbott said ERCOT has not provided information about which areas will get power back Wednesday when energy is distributed to the 1.2 million homes. He said ERCOT needs more transparency.
Who gets power?
Abbott explained and reemphasized that decisions about rotating power outages or who gets power and who doesn’t is up to local, city-owned utilities or co-op-owned utilities. If they are investor-owned, like Oncor, Center Point Energy, AEP or Texas-New Mexico Power, they are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission.
“An order has been made to ensure that everybody that is subject to regulation by the PUC will have access to power on at least a rotating basis during the remaining time period until power is fully up and running,” Abbott said.
Busted pipes – what to do
Abbott suggested turning off your water supply to prevent pipe bursts from flooding your residence. He urged homeowners to start working with plumbers and insurance companies if bursting pipes are happening to your homes.
To help with response to busted water pipes, Abbott said he will be issuing a waiver to previously-licensed plumbers who may not have continued their education in the past two years. These plumbers will be able to apply to help assist families and increase response to this problem. Additionally, Abbott said they’re working to get provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers.
Chief Nim Kidd with the Texas Division of Emergency Management also gave an update during the press conference.
He said all 25 districts across Texas under the Texas Department of Transportation are still affected. TxDOT has about 4,5000 employees out on the roads operating more than 740 snow plows and 225 motor graders to help de-ice the roadways and interstate system. There are more than 5,200 road sections still affected with 37 closures.
“I think one of the most important jobs that they have right now is prioritizing and clearing routes to critical infrastructure and coordinating with local governments for access to hospitals, working with the Public Utility Commission to make sure that the power plants are still up and running… and working with fuel vendors,” Kidd said.
Chief Kidd also added that TDEM is working alongside the Texas Military Department to locate unused generators at military bases to send out across the state.
He also added that once the weather clears, the state will be able to fly more resources across the state, rather than depending on ground transport.
Texas DPS response
Kidd said about 3,300 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers on the roads around the clock, and they are investigating about 1,600 crashes. This does not include crashes local jurisdictions are looking into.
In addition to roadside assistance, investigating crashes and supporting other local law enforcement agencies, Kidd said DPS troopers also delivered blood to hospitals, fuel to power plants and helped relocate nursing home residents.
Mass boil water notices
Executive Director Toby Baker with the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality reported there are about 276 boil water notices impacting just under 7 million Texans in the state. Another 263,000 are being affected by nonoperational systems. These are expected to last for some time after the weather clears and power returns.
Baker said they’re working with labs who test water to help out local water utilities looking to monitor their water conditions.
Kidd said FEMA is helping with water resources as well as providing cots, blankets and generators. Eventually the plan is to fly resources to hard-hit areas.
Texas Democrats criticized the governor’s address on Wednesday.
“Texas is in dire straits. Texans are dying. Homes are being destroyed, people are cold and hungry, and we have no idea when things will begin to return to normal because our state Government continues to fail,” Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.
Hinojosa continued that Abbott has failed Texans, by keeping them in the dark both figuratively and literally.
“Millions of Texans are without power in freezing temperatures, many of them for the last 60 hours. At least 21 Texans have died. Their blood is on Abbott’s hands,” Hinojosa added.
On Tuesday, Abbott knocked the council and even called for an investigation into the group’s energy handling.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said on 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. Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions. I thank my partners in the House and Senate for acting quickly on this challenge, and I will work with them to enhance Texas’ electric grid and ensure that our state never experiences power outages like this again.”
ERCOT, which many Texans may not have even been aware of before the winter storms, advises power companies on how much energy they have available to use safely at any given time.