Texas starts rolling power outages to cope with deep freeze

Wednesday, 17 Feb, 2021

The cold snap sweeping Texas reached the northern part of neighboring Mexico as well, where authorities said 4.7 million users lost power early on Monday. But about 65% of those affected in Mexico had seen their power restored by midday, according to grid operator Cenace.

Igee Cummings walks through the snow Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston.

Frigid temperatures and a parade of storms in the US follow other instances of extreme winter weather this year that have snarled ports and upended energy markets in Asia and Europe.

The blackouts, which have spread from Texas across the Great Plains, have reignited the debate about the reliability of intermittent wind and solar power as the USA seeks to accelerate the shift to carbon-free renewable energy.

Governor Greg Abbott has deployed additional resources to respond to severe winter weather that's impacting the entire state.

"They are working to get generation back on line". Abbott, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson each activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.

Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport said in a statement that its airfield would remain closed until 1 p.m. CST (1900 GMT) while the city's Hobby Airport will cease operations until at least Tuesday due to the inclement weather.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said an Arctic air mass had spread southward, well beyond areas accustomed to freezing weather, with winter storm warnings posted for most of the Gulf Coast region, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Icicles hang on a watch for ice on bridge road sign Monday Feb. 15 2021 in Houston. A winter storm making its way from the southern Plains to the Northeast is affecting air travel
Icicles hung on a watch for ice on bridge road sign Monday Feb. 15 2021 in Houston

In Houston, Barbara Matthews said she lasted in her home until Monday night.

"Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now", said Bill Magness, head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state's grid.

The council described the rotating outages as a "last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole", adding that utility transmission companies are tasked with determining how to reduce demand on the system. Wind is the source for almost a quarter of the state's electricity.

The worst USA power outages were in Texas, affecting more than four million homes and businesses.

Making matters worse, expectations that the outages would be shared evenly by the state's 30 million residents quickly gave way to a cold reality, as pockets in some of America's largest cities, including San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, were left to shoulder the lasting brunt of a catastrophic power failure, and in subfreezing conditions that Texas' grid operators had known was coming.

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas implemented rolling blackouts as cold temperatures strained power grids.

More than 250,000 people also lost power across parts of Appalachia, and another quarter of a million were still without electricity following an ice storm in north-west OR, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports. She said she was anxious about another blast of wintry weather forecast for Tuesday night and the possibility of her home's pipes bursting. More than 300,000 outages hit OR, and even the New York City suburbs were affected, with almost 24,000 outages in New Jersey's Sussex County.

"It's not really going to warm up until at least Friday", said David Roth, of the NWS Weather Prediction Centre.