AUSTIN — Texas was “seconds or minutes” away from the risk of its electric grid catastrophically failing as a record-breaking winter storm barreled across the state, the top manager of the grid said Thursday.
Major generation units began failing in rapid succession as Sunday night rolled into Monday morning while demand skyrocketed, Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council, said in a news briefing.
The controlled outages that have ravaged the state were the only way to avert an even more dire blackout in Texas, Magness said.
“One of the reasons operators have to (shut down parts of the grid) is if they say, ‘You know, let’s wait another minute to see what happens.’ What happens the next minute might be three big units come off, and then you’re sunk.
“If we hadn’t taken action, it wouldn’t have been we would have waited a few days and see what happens. It was seconds and minutes, given the amount of generation that was coming off the system at the same time demand was still going up.”
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The shutdown left as many as 4 million Texans suffering without electricity for 48 hours or more in some cases, even as temperatures all across the state dipped into single digits and heavy snow and ice shut down highways, forcing the extended closure of grocery stores and other essential businesses.
Magness’ comments came as ERCOT announced it began allowing power companies to re-energize grids that have been without electricity during this week’s statewide deep freeze, but no timetable was provided for full restoration of service.
“We’re to the point in the load restoration where we are allowing transmission owners to bring back any load they can related to this load shed event,” said Dan Woodfin, the senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on.”
Since the unprecedented Texas outages, which dominated national headlines and network newscasts, ERCOT has been the brunt of criticism from consumers, energy analysts and political leaders from both parties.
“We need answers, we need solutions, and we need accountability,” said state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi said.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced Thursday federal help was on the way to Texas and other states battered by the winter storm.
Another challenge facing the state is compromised drinking water systems, a casualty of the harsh weather and the extended outages. An estimated 7 million of Texas’ nearly 30 million people were instructed to boil tap water before drinking it.
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“It is possible that some level of rotating outages may be needed over the next couple of days to keep the grid stable,” a news release said.
Follow John Moritz on Twitter: @JohnnieMo.