Nearly a year removed from the devastating statewide blackouts of February 2021, Abbott and his interlocutors emphasized that the power grid is prepared for what’s to come.
An arctic front is moving toward and through Texas that will likely bring snow, sleet, freezing rain, and other precipitation. Based on the weather map at the Alternate State Operations Center in Austin, the front is moving northeasterly across the western, south-central, and northeast portions of the state.
The agencies involved in the briefing were the Texas Division of Emergency Management, ERCOT, Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Military Department, and a handful of others.
“At this moment, Texas has an excess of 15,000 megawatts (MW) of power across the state,” Abbott said. That includes the grid’s reserve margin, which currently sits at 6,144 MW.
One MW can power about 200 homes during peak demand. The expected peak demand for this weekend, set for Friday morning, is set at 71,000 MW — a would-be record.
Before blackouts were triggered last February, the state nearly reached 70,000 MW in demand, which was then reduced as forced outages were initiated. The officials said that available capacity during the cold snap will reach 86,000 MW — roughly 85 percent of the state’s total installed generation.
The state-mandated weatherization for generators across Texas. Out of the just over 300 generators that tripped offline during last year’s storm, all but a few are compliant with that mandate as of the end of December.
Additionally, the critical infrastructure shortfall, which exacerbated the blackouts by shutting off from power natural gas facilities whose product was used to generate electricity, has been fixed. Last year, only 60 facilities were designated as critical infrastructure. Now, the number is over 1,500.
And even if there is a shortfall of natural gas supply, which RRC Commissioner Jim Wright said is not expected, there are 380 billion cubic feet of natural gas currently in underground storage available if necessary. According to Abbott, that is enough for multiple days of use.
“The goal is to make sure the lights stay on and the power stays on,” Abbott emphasized. That said, outages may occur due to downed power lines from ice or falling branches. As of the press conference, 5,000 people across Texas were without power due to scattered outages from things like downed lines.
“Squirrels, branches, and fallen power lines are local issues,” PUC Chairman Peter Lake said. The responsibility of restoring power in such circumstances lies with the local transmission company. Transmission companies have available mobile generators to fill the gaps where these outages exist.
“Just because there are outages doesn’t mean there are particular problems with the power grid itself,” Abbott underscored, pointing to the difference between scattered outages and a wholesale failure of the power grid.
Lake added that the state has increased reserves and surplus power and will deploy them more quickly than it did last year, to stave off any potential threat of a repeat.
The chief reason the power grid faltered last year was the severity of the cold and precipitation paired with the length of time it continued and the sheer scope of its reach across the whole state. This incoming storm is not projected to come close to those levels of cold or precipitation, and there are regions of the state that will not be impacted like they were in 2021.
While questions about the power grid’s stability were assuaged, the officials warned about dangerous road conditions after the precipitation arrives.
Marc Williams, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, said the agency had begun road pretreatment across the state on Sunday, a practice that will continue throughout this week. “Over the next few days the roadways could become dangerous,” Williams said, “and different regions will face different problems.”
Williams suggested that Texans visit DriveTexas.org to monitor road conditions, and recommended Texans avoid roadways during the storm unless absolutely necessary.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.