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By James Frank
I’m going to keep this brief because the Legislature is going to spend the next 3 months analyzing this question, and I pray, making changes that will ensure it doesn’t happen again. With that said, what happened is that we lost a ton of our supply of electricity at the same time that demand skyrocketed because of temperatures. This event has been FAR worse than even the worst-case scenario ERCOT plans envisioned.
The grid was able to meet the high demand numbers on Sunday night when it peaked. Unfortunately, the frigid temps started knocking out a number of the production facilities of all types (wind, natural gas, coal, nuclear) in quick succession. All told, 49,000 MW of power was unavailable right when it was needed the most. As a result, ERCOT had to force the distributors (like Oncor) to curtail demand to make sure that it could meet basic requirements for critical infrastructure. That curtailment was in the form of “rolling blackouts.” Unfortunately, with production unable to come back online quickly, there was not enough capacity in the system to allow the blackouts to roll.
The one question I have been asked the most since this all began is: “Why have some of my neighbors not lost power at all while I/my family/etc. have not had it for more than 30 hours?” I think all of us are willing to tolerate hardships as long as we feel like it’s fair and this hasn’t felt fair.
ERCOT runs the overall grid for most of the state and they tell the power distribution companies (like Oncor) when they need to cut distribution and by how much. This reduction requirement is assessed equitably throughout the state (Oncor has 36% of the grid load, so they have to account for 36% of the reduction amount). It is up to each individual company to figure out how to meet that reduction requirement.
So why such a disparity between the power haves and have-nots? There are a number of factors that are at play. From my understanding, the primary factor is whether you happen to be along a circuit that is providing power to “critical infrastructure” like hospitals or water treatment plants. If you are on one of those circuits, you will maintain power. However, in order to ensure that those critical places are keeping power, those that have lost power can’t gain it back until that capacity we discussed previously comes back on. Additionally, it could be a very localized issue with the distribution network (lines down, transformers out, etc.) that is addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Additionally, our crews continue to restore equipment damaged by the significant winter storm so those homes and businesses can receive power as soon as possible. We have relocated crews, including mutual assistance contractors from out of state, from areas with limited damage to areas with more damage to make repairs as quickly and safely as possible. We are closely watching the coming winter storm that is forecast for Tuesday night and Wednesday to ensure that we have the needed resources to address any damage from the storm.