On February 12, 2021, days before record cold and power outages impacted millions of Texans, we started live coverage of the event to help keep people informed before — and then during — the days that followed.  This featured section covers the aftermath and how the state of Texas and its people move forward.   Long after power comes back on for homes and businesses across the state, the extreme weather and the subsequent fallout from it will continue to impact many of those who call Texas home.

Will my power be disconnected for non-payment?

Temporarily no, but please check with your provider for confirmation.  Governor Greg Abbott has indicated that customers will not be disconnected for non-payment until the Texas legislature “has time to act on this.”  

When do things start going back to normal?

With normal defined as a working level of grid capacity and most consumers having power restored, Rob Cantrell of Pulse Power shared his thoughts: 

“Monday or Tuesday, things should settle back in for the average customer.  BUT, I think that there will be a large number of retailers that will start to fail over the next 10 days, with either transfers to new REPs or drops to POLR…”

While millions of Texans have had power restored since Wednesday, nearly half of Texans are under a boil-water advisory.

What's causing all of the boil water advisories?

As of Friday February 19th, there are over 11,000,000 homes and businesses in Texas under boil water advisories.  These advisories are issued by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality:

County-by-county breakdown of BWNs (Boil Water Notices)

The majority of homes and businesses (about 2/3rds) in Texas currently have no water pressure, low water pressure, and/or are required to boil their water prior to consuming it (or using it for food preparation).  Unfortunately, while power has been restored to most areas, many water pipes were left frozen by the record cold streak. 

Frozen pipes can result in pipes and plumbing to leak, or worse, completely burst open and require a lengthy and costly replacement.

Is clean energy (solar/wind) to blame for the outages?

In 2020, about 25% of the power generated in Texas came from wind turbines.  2% of power was generated from solar generation.  The vast majority of energy generated came from “dirty energy” — natural gas and coal.

Is is true that wind turbines in West Texas froze and were inoperable in the past week?  Yes.  Is it true that some power plants aren’t as  winterized as they are “up north?”  Yes.  And while it’s true that coal and natural gas plants were more to blame for the power outages this past week, it’s mainly because they’re responsible for generating most of said power. 


How can we stop this from happening again?

Governor Abbot has promised an investigation into ERCOT and its handling of the past week.  Many industry leaders, experts, and pundits have ideas:

  • Increase generation capacity
  • Increase dependence on wind energy
  • Decrease dependence on wind energy
  • “Modernize” the grid infrastructure
  • Weatherize the grid infrastructure
  • Join the Western grid
  • More regulations and oversight
  • Less regulations and oversight

We’ll share more insight into of these suggestions in the coming days.

Further reading from our Senior Energy Consultants:

Gabriel Canal (Feb 19):
Texas Grid Reliability: Déjà Vu All Over Again?

Jesse Mojarro (Feb 19):
Texas Power Woes

ERCOT Interview – Feb 19, 2021

Below is the transcription of a virtual press conference held between reporters and ERCOT executives Bill Magness (President) and Dan Woodfin (Senior Director, Systems Operations).

How much of an additional cost would it be for generators to winterize their facilities?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

Yeah, that’s data we don’t really have.  We don’t run power plants or operate them.  We don’t winterize them.  It’s not a part of the business that we go out and do, so I don’t think we could provide anything all that useful tonight.

How does ERCOT think the federal government responded to this crisis? Was it sufficient and/or expected?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

Well, to be honest I might could tell you the federal response that we were engaged in I’m sure that the event would have gone on while we were focused on getting power back on and other parts of this tragedy caused by the weather that you might be referring to, but I really don’t have any information on those.  We did ask the United States Department of Energy for an emergency order. 

Governor Abbott encouraged them to be out there [unintelligible] and recording, were instrumental in helping us achieve very quickly- I think we may have been within 24 hours and what that allows was for federal rules to be set aside just for the time that we were in emergency conditions. Which gave a lot of the uh, or some, I don’t know how many, I don’t know the number, we’ll get that data as we investigate, but generation units running full power, if they were able.  So that certainly was useful.  And we wish [unintelligible] cooperated in making that happen.  And making it happen pretty fast. 

I know our legal counsel, our general counsel, were in conference calls through midnight, 1 AM – working through the language on that, getting it done. And certainly appreciate Gov Abbott for pushing that through.  That was helpful. And that was the main federal involvement that we were aware of and the part of the process that we were involved in.

When will you be presenting something to the legislature regarding this event?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

There’s two legislative hearings, one in the Texas Senate and one in the Texas House set for next Thursday, and we will be presenting.

It seems that other states including Oklahoma and New Mexico suffered the same weather as Texas but only a tiny fraction of the outages. Is there something Texas can learn from those states about how to run a reliable grid?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

You know honestly, we haven’t the time to look much further than the work we’ve done here, but we’ll certainly investigate what we’re seeing all over the country. I think when a regulator, like FERC, comes in, it’s certainly something they’ll look at.  But I think there’s lessons learned from many neighboring power areas and that’s something that we’ll look at.

Since you were working off a 2011 and 2018 emergency plan that failed, going forward how do you plan to have enough cushion for reserves in a winter storm to avoid this?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

Let me back up a little bit because when we talk about 2011 and 2018. 2011 was when we saw what’s been the worst weather up until this winter weather. And so we set it as a marker. We know it can get this cold and then put that into the computer models and everything that we do to forecast and plan.

In 2018, we saw some very severe, significant weather that year that rivaled 2011 a little bit, but we managed to go through it, and we felt like improvements had been made across the systems in 2011 and we were encouraged by that. So, wondered if there were models, I guess or market structures from 2011 and 2018 that were not weighed in managing a system.

The system is managed by regulations and those regulations are being updated at certain intervals and we implement those, so I think we were operating the system, we believe, according to those mandates. I do not think there was a 2018 or 2011 plan that I am aware of that was any different. 

When the governor orders the natural gas operators to stop sending natural gas out of the state, how much impact did that have on a comeback?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

That is something that I think you probably need to talk to the gas generators about because those supplier relationships between the gas and gas generators because they’re the ones that are going to know what they received. Certainly, opening up more supply is what the government tried to do and that certainly could have a significant impact on the ability of the generators to hang back and recover to get out of an emergency position. It could have helped, absolutely, but we do not have the data to measure that. 

What was the purpose for raising Megawatt prices?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

The way that wholesale pricing, this is not retail pricing, the way that wholesale for power works generally is we pay more when we have scarcity conditions.

So, on a day when there are no scarcity whatsoever prices will be lower, but as the conditions get tight and we realize that we are needing more power on the system then the computer systems that run this, our programs, send out that new price signal that says, this is how much you will get paid if you produce now. Plants that are not wanting to run at one price level are waiting for that price signal that is higher and they will come on.

I think when the Public Utility Commission sped up the rules for how scarcity pricing works over time, when we get to the higher levels of scarcity pricing its very effective because then not only do generators pay attention because there is an incentive to do so, but they pay attention because if you say you’re going to produce at that price and you don’t there’s significant financial consequences, so that scarcity pricing mechanism is something that we rely on, so when you see those prices higher they are usually going to be related to that fact that we had tight conditions.

How far would ERCOT push to make sure changes are made to keep this from happening again?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

We do not want this to happen again and any effort wherever it happens, we are happy to participate that will bring solutions to this sort of thing. The fundamental facts that you do not want you know the saying goes, supply and demand, you in avoiding a blackout that can last, we do not really know how long depending on conditions, that is a fundamental task.

It’s too difficult to try to repair one of those if you do not have to, you have to prevent them from happening, so I think that is going to be a fundamental objective. There is this phenomenon we talked about having to produce demand such that as we talked about outages have been rotating, because the number of outages as large as it was became a problem. I think that is something that people need to be creative, including us and think about how to manage that because that was one of the big challenges.

We had told people rotating outages but then they could not rotate, so people were like what is going on and that is certainly part of the frustration and difficulty of it. But until that number of MWs could be put in outage it was not clear that that was going to be a problem, but once they implemented it, it was a very good call.

Governor Abbot called on state lawmakers to mandate "weatherization" of Power generators. Is this something ERCOT supports and what specific measure do you think would be needed for weatherization?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

I think these are really productive steps to get the regulators to encourage that right away. We have been through difficult times. Power water and all these areas. Looking at weatherization is a great idea.

Specific measures comes back to earlier assumption we don’t run power plants or pretend to know the best thing to do in particular kind of wind turbine, gas turbine or nuclear, there are experts that work in that. Working with those folks who have the expertise on the specific measures is a good place to look and determine what’s needed. 

Had there been a full black out of the sort ERCOT was working to avoid, what would the procedure have been for resuming power from that?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

Never had to do it in Texas. It’s had to been done in other regions

Dan Woodfin – ERCOT Senior Director, Systems Operations:

We actually although hope that never happens, we have a plan in place if it ever went black. Work with Transmission operators, it would be very involved but there is a plan to do it. Starting at the usual generates and power plants around the state. Those are energized and then gradually adding load around power plants, customers around the power plant keep in mind, building out from each of these around the stage and fill out a whole lot of switching, and transmission lines have to open all the breakers, close into on particular path, route to another path.  Overtime link all 12 of these islands together once you have those, open up another one line add more load back and more generation back just incredibly difficult process and takes time and all points in time   inch by inch bring it maintain balance all the time so the generators don’t trip offline.

What we’ve seen in simulations, there is interval trips out and go back inch by inch until system is back online. Maintain voltage, just how difficult that is and though we have a plan for it, we never want to.  It requires a lot of personnel being out at places and connections and doing all this and the power is not on. Exactly the kind of thing we wanted to avoid. 

How low did the frequency dip on Monday morning?

Dan Woodfin – ERCOT Senior Director, Systems Operations:

It was a hair above 59.3 percent (or something like that). Not a very good tolerance. 

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

What would have happened if it would have gone 59.1 or so forth?

Dan Woodfin – ERCOT Senior Director, Systems Operations:

If frequency goes down too far generating units are designed to operate as such low frequencies, generators start tripping top to bottom, as generators continue to hit that frequency, that in and of itself causes more generators to trip offline which makes the frequency go offline like a cascade. There is a safety net where some of that load shed happens automatically, but it continues to lose generators or lose too much potentially too fast before that automatic load shed happens the safety net might not have caught it. 

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

59.3 is low but its been there, like the questions why did we go in the past dynamics of the system were changing so fast the horrendous weather coming in generators started dropping off and the weather continued to increase. Combination going very quickly. 

Dan Woodfin – ERCOT Senior Director, Systems Operations:

Ultimately, as generation trips offline, that’s all the load we can serve, there is nothing else we can do service more load if that’s all the load you have. Supply continued to decrease as generators went offline. You can’t serve more load then the amount of generation available. Whatever reason the gens tripping offline regardless of reason. Impossible. Regardless of mechanisms by which the load us doing it as controlled the way we dead, whether its the safety mechanism tripping the load off, or whatever you are going to get down to those levels that generation service and for the longest you only have that amount of generation you can’t serve more load so that’s really the first problem. 

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

Plan to make a 50 mile drive, the gas you have in your car will only get you 10, you’re taking a 10 mile drive. If we had done nothing and we saw that much generation go off, you would have tripped into the problem BBB is talking about. If we would have done nothing, there still would have been an enormous amount of power outages, because if the only available generation at that point in that night was say 45,000 mW (don’t quote me on that). If it was that much then we’d serve demand up to 45,000 MW, but the demand was much higher, if everyone was hooked up. Thats a limit on the system.

If we had done nothing, there still would have been an enormous amount of outages because if the only available generation at that point was say 45000 megawatts, then we can serve demand up to 45000 megawatts but the demand was much higher and the system has limits.

Depending on what you find in the RFI investigation, who has regulatory powers to take action on the findings?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

I don’t know that there is any one, depends on what the findings are, if there are things that has to do with the reliability standards of the operating entities, if there is something that happens that was in violation of one of those standards then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have regulatory authority over that.

If it’s something that was in violation of the ERCOT protocol, that would be the Federal Facilities Commission that would have regulatory oversight over that. 

We are talking about request for information (RFI). We asked those to get information and not necessarily to find violations on our part because there are market participants made up of experts with experience in the market and we take this events analysis to them, analysis that are even more technical than what we are saying today. We go into tremendous details about what we saw. People rely on us, we have the ability to gather everyone’s information and when its confidential we keep it confidential but still be able to make these examinations. We have market participants who are generators, transmission providers, retail providers, all across the board who are meeting regularly in difficult times and good times because the market continues to shift and evolve. We rely on our relationship with them to develop federal practice.

If information ends up being a violation of a federal or state standard then that’s something that someone has to deal with at the federal or state level but we want the information anyway to do analysis and make improvements.

What does it mean (for ERCOT) to return to normal operations?

Bill Magness – ERCOT President, CEO:

So when we talk about normal operations, we are not asking any of those out of market responses like “We need you to conserve” or “We want you to voluntarily reduce your load”, all of those mechanisms are tools. They are tools that we have in place to use when we need to protect the system.

So we are basically saying now, that we think the conditions are what they were a week ago or two weeks ago where we aren’t noticing anything about your electricity. The grid is stable, the generation is able to meet the demand, essentially “there is nothing to see here.” In a normal operation, I should add, that we are still having people return to service. We are not, we are not asking for additional load shed, we are not asking for additional measures, the transmission providers are still at work getting people back in service.

There are still rotating outages where there is still issues from the storm. That part is not over yet. Typically in ordinary operations, ERCOT as grid operators is not asking people to do these things to protect the integrity of the grid. So really what goes on is we’re watching the balance of the system and managing issues as they come up, like if a transmission line goes out of service and we have to readjust how the electricity is flowing, we have to work with them on that. If a generating unit that is large, drops off and threatens the balance, even if it doesn’t affect the overall reliability, we have to work on that.

We are constantly, 24/7 managing these various types of issues on the system. For example, one of the ones we’ve been challenged with over the past 10 years now is intermittent resources that are different than other resources on the system. We have had to balance with other resources that are on and then off and then on because you can’t really control them as you would a machine, like a coal plant, or a gas plant. So constantly monitoring and managing all these things, most days, are completely in the background because the system is stable, everyone is doing what they need to do and the transactions that manage the market are private transactions in the market place where people are limited by the things we need to serve the system.

That is generally why the general public only hears from us (ERCOT) if it is bad news because we are the ones that have to step in when bad things happen to make sure more bad things don’t happen. That’s what we did this week, and now that we’re in ordinary operations, we’re hoping that we stay there for awhile and that we are able to manage the things on the system that come up everyday and not challenges that have had such a cataclysmic effect that we have seen all over the state.

When something like this happens, people always look for someone to “blame” – in this case, while there were mistakes made along the way, I really don’t know if anyone is to blame for the crisis. ERCOT seems to be feeling the most heat right now, but it would have been tough to build a system to withstand the situation as it deployed.

Rob Cantrell

President, Pulse Power, LLC

We’ve reached out to numerous industry experts and leaders to get their thoughts on the past week.  We’d like to acknowledge Rob Cantrell, President of Pulse Power, for being the first to offer his feedback.