ERCOT—so close to months of blackouts in Texas

Reports indicate that the state of Texas, was literally minutes away from possible power outages lasting months, not hours as the historic freeze gripped the state and interfered in power production.

As the status of rolling blackouts and power production improved late in the week, Bill Magness, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas admitted the state was on the verge of a true disaster.”It was seconds and minutes,” he said.

In other words, the blackouts that left millions without power and heat could have lasted months. Magness said the rolling blackouts were needed, otherwise the state could have been plunged into darkness for months.

ERCOT grid operators first noticed the warning signs on Monday when large amounts of energy supply dropped off, either through frozen wind turbines that supply some of the state’s electricity or as a result of freezeoffs in the natural gas supply. That’s when the grid operators made the decision to implement the power interruptions that sent temperatures plunging inside homes and buildings.

Magness said if grid operators had waited to cut the amount of power when they saw the drop off, it might have meant “indeterminately long” blackouts for months throughout Texas.

“The fundamental thing we have to do to protect reliability is to ensure there’s not a catastrophic blackout – to ensure we don’t get in a situation where we are starting the grid from scratch and power could be out for an indeterminate amount of time,”

While ERCOT has been criticized for its handling of the historic situation, it has its defenders including Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at Austin-based Enverus, the oil and gas software and information company.

“As chaotic as it was, the whole grid couldn’t been in blackout. ERCOT is getting a lot of heat, but the fact that it wasn’t worse is because of those grid operators.”

Still, some observers say the fact that most of the state came so close to a disaster is a sign that raises a serious question—was Texas unprepared and unequipped to handle such an historic storm. Or maybe it was a sign that the system worked and avoided a catastrophic shutdown of electrical power.

An ERCOT report on generating capacity listed the top sources of power in the state:

  • Natural gas (51%)
  • Wind (24.8%)
  • Coal (13.4%)
  • Nuclear (4.9%)
  • Solar (3.8%)
  • Hydro, biomass-fired units (1.9%)
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