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Friday, 19 February 2021 17:42

Texas Was ‘Seconds and Minutes’ Away from Catastrophic Months-Long Blackouts, Officials Say

Written by Erin Douglas, The Texas Tribune

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Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months, officials with the entity that operates the grid said Feb. 18.

As millions of customers throughout the state begin to have power restored after days of massive blackouts, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the power grid that covers most of the state, said Texas was dangerously close to a worst-case scenario: uncontrolled blackouts across the state.

 

The quick decision that grid operators made in the early hours of Feb. 15 to begin what was intended to be rolling blackouts---but lasted days for millions of Texans---occurred because operators were seeing warning signs that massive amounts of energy supply was dropping off the grid.

 

As natural gas fired plants, utility scale wind power and coal plants tripped offline due to the extreme cold brought by the winter storm, the amount of power supplied to the grid to be distributed across the state fell rapidly. At the same time, demand was increasing as consumers and businesses turned up the heat and stayed inside to avoid the weather.

 

“It needed to be addressed immediately," said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.”

 

Grid operators had to act quickly to cut the amount of power distributed, Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”

 

Magness said on Feb. 17 if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.

 

While generators rapidly dropped off the grid as the weather worsened, operators monitored the difference between the supply of power on the grid and the demand for that power. As supply dwindled and demand grew, the margin narrowed to more and more dangerous levels, forcing grid operators to enact emergency protocols to either increase supply or decrease demand.

 

The worst case scenario: Demand for power outstrips the supply of power generation available on the grid, causing...


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