Here is a timeline of events after more information has come to light in legislative hearings.
November 5, 2020
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ (ERCOT) seasonal assessment states enough generation is available to weather the winter season. A projected 83,000-megawatt (MW) capacity was expected for the winter peak, whenever that came.
January 15, 2021
In its 2020 Operations Report and Plan, ERCOT states, “[W]ith a normal outage rate and under expected weather conditions, ERCOT should have sufficient generation capacity to serve forecasted peak demand.”
ERCOT issues an Operating Condition Notice “intended to give Market maximum advanced notice of potential issue.”
In-house meteorologists at Vistra Corp. and NRG Energy, two of the state’s biggest power generators, inform their respective companies the inclement weather could create issues for the grid as the cold weather would cause electricity demand to skyrocket. Both companies said they notified the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) immediately.
This same day, ERCOT elected their new chair and vice-chair — Sally Talberg and Peter Cramton, respectively. Their tenure in the positions would only last two weeks. At that meeting, the winter weather was discussed for less than a minute wherein ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said, “we’re ready for the several days of pretty frigid temperatures to come our way.”
Luis Saenz, chief of staff for Governor Greg Abbott, was informed by a Vistra Corp. employee about their prognostication of incoming grid troubles caused by the weather.
ERCOT issued a cold weather notice advising electricity consumers to monitor grid conditions and ERCOT’s recommendations for use. It further requested that generators “take necessary steps to prepare their facilities for the expected cold weather.” ERCOT warned that the grid could set an all-time winter peak demand on February 15.
The governor issues disaster declaration for the entire state ahead of the storm.
Abbott held a press conference, telling Texans, “Stay off the roads, take conscious steps to conserve energy…this winter weather requires a collective approach between state agencies, local officials, and Texans throughout our communities to ensure the safety and security of the Lone Star State.”
According to Saenz, Abbott begins calling CEOs of utility companies to reduce their electrical use and warn of power shortages.
The Department of Energy (DOE) receives a request from Magness to waive emissions caps, freeing up generators to maximize their production to meet demand. In a same-day turnaround, the DOE approved ERCOT’s request in its entirety.
At 7:06 p.m., ERCOT sets a new winter demand record at 69,222 MW of consumption on the grid at once.
At 8:35 p.m. ERCOT pushes out an energy conservation request, asking customers to turn their thermostats down to 68 degrees, maximize insulation, and turn off non-essential lights and appliances.
At 12:15 a.m., ERCOT declares an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) Level 1 — triggered by the operating reserves dropping below 2,300 megawatts (MW). About an hour later, that was increased to an EEA Level 2.
It was only at this point that the DOE reprieve requested by ERCOT was triggered. Certain large commercial and industrial operators, who agree beforehand to shut down in such conditions, were shed from the state load. ERCOT further warned “rotating outages are possible.”
Only 13 minutes later did the EEA 2 upgrade to an EEA 3, and orders were then issued to utility companies to begin rotating outages. At that moment, power for roughly 2 million homes was shed from the grid.
From 1:26 a.m. to 1:50 a.m., 3,800 MW of generation trips offline on top of the 35,343 MW offline from the Sunday evening precipitation.
Around 1:51 a.m., ERCOT experiences a frequency event it says was only minutes from causing a statewide outage that could have lasted weeks. Around that time, Vistra Corp. CEO Craig Morgan later stated, the nuclear facility at Comanche Peak came “dangerously close” to going offline. That facility provides about 1,500 MW to the North Texas area.
At 5:37 a.m., one unit at the South Texas Nuclear Project (STNP) — which supplies the Houston area with much of its baseload generation — trips offline due to a feedwater issue caused by cold weather.
The PUC issues a directive to ERCOT to adjust its real-time wholesale pricing equation to “accurately reflect” scarcity in the market — effectively raising prices from cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to its $9 cap.
By 4:00 p.m. that day, ERCOT said it was about to restore enough power for 500,000 homes that had experienced prolonged outages but still ordered 2.8 million homes worth of power shed from the grid due to generation failures.
Monday ended with 4.4 million customers out of power across Texas.
Early Tuesday morning, temperatures across the state drop to an average low of 5.6 degrees.
Offline generation reaches a peak of 48.6 percent of the ERCOT capacity, equaling 52,277 MW.
Abbott declares ERCOT reform an emergency item for the Texas legislature.
Overnight, ERCOT loses the ability to bring in small amounts of power from neighboring grids as the snowstorm descends, stressing electricity supply.
Tuesday concluded with 3.1 million customers throughout Texas without power.
ERCOT says 46,000 MW of generation is off the grid because of weather problems.
After noon, ERCOT begins restoring 1,000 MW of power to the grid — about 200,000 houses — every hour.
At 9:07 p.m., STNP Unit 1 generator returns to its full capacity.
By Thursday morning, only roughly 550,000 customers were without power.
For the first time since the initial plunge on Monday morning, generation on the ERCOT grid eclipses 50,000 MW.
Approximately 40,000 MW of generation out-of-commission due to weather issues, according to ERCOT.
ERCOT ends emergency conditions as controlled blackouts cease. Any blackout still in effect at this point is due to downed power lines or the need to manually reconnect to the grid. 34,000 MW of generation continues to be unavailable due to cold weather.
Attorney General Ken Paxton sends Civil Investigative Demands to ERCOT and numerous private energy sector companies, beginning official investigations.
By Friday, the outage total across Texas dropped below 75,000 customers.
Four ERCOT board members, including the newly elected chair and vice-chair, submit a resignation letter citing their out-of-state residency creating a distraction. A fifth who lives in Toronto, Canada also resigns but does so separately from the others. A sixth individual, a Virginia resident, withdrew his name from contention for the remaining vacancy to which he was nominated.
ERCOT holds an emergency board meeting to prepare for hearings the following day. After the meeting, the aforementioned resignations become effective. Three others have also since resigned.
Abbott calls for grid “winterization” in a brief televised address.
Legislative hearings in both the Texas House and Senate begin with testimony from ERCOT, the PUC, power generators, utility companies, oil and gas representatives, renewable power representatives, and more.
Afterward, legislators begin calling for PUC Chair DeAnn Walker to resign.
At 11:56 a.m., Lt. Governor Dan Patrick calls for Walker’s resignation along with Magness’.
About three hours later, Walker notifies the public that her resignation letter has been submitted to the governor.
Former ERCOT board vice-chair Peter Cramton tells Texas Public Radio “toxic politics” caused his and the others’ resignations. “We didn’t leave the sinking ship. We were thrown off the boat.”
Texas’ largest electricity co-op, Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, files for bankruptcy due to a $1.8 billion bill from ERCOT stemming from the exorbitant wholesale electricity costs.
Abbott appoints sitting PUC Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea to the agency’s chair position, replacing Walker who resigned only two days earlier.
PUC Commissioner Shelly Botkin resigns, effective immediately.
Governor Abbott adds correction of ERCOT’s billing overcharge to the emergency item list.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original form.
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Brad Johnson is 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.