Texas governor orders natural gas producers not to export supply, blames city-owned utilities for power outages
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced new orders requiring state-regulated power utilities to implement rolling outages and natural gas providers not to export their product out-of-state in an effort to assuage a days-long power-and-water crisis during a press conference on Wednesday, the first one he has held since the outages began early Monday morning.
Austin Energy officials have repeatedly stressed that they are not yet able to implement rotating outages. "Currently, we are not stable enough to have rotating outages," General Manager Jackie Sargent said during a Wednesday press conference, adding that the utility cannot restore power to circuits without compromising those serving critical loads, such as hospitals and fire stations.
Abbott also asked state agencies to issue provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers and insurance adjusters.
Millions of Texans are without power and an increasing number are also without water, as freezing temperatures have caused water pipes and mains to burst. Abbott and other state officials have not said when residents can expect their power and water supply to resume but expressed hope that warming temperatures will lessen the crisis.
Abbott blamed city-owned and coop-owned utilities for the power outages. "It would not be any state-based entity that makes those decisions," he said, making no mention of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90% of the state's power grid.
Austin Energy officials have stressed that they have been ordered by ERCOT to cut power to a certain number of customers to avoid a total grid shutdown, which could take months to restore. Abbott criticized the entity on Tuesday, when he announced ERCOT reform would be an emergency item this legislative session and later said that he thinks its leadership should resign.
Abbott faced criticism after he attributed the state's days-long power crisis to wind turbine failures and took a shot at renewable energy policies. "This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America," the Republican governor told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday.
180,000+ @austinenergy customers have no power. Some ⚡️ restored but *not* enough. If water main broken call 5129721000, 911 if medical emergency
Don't call @GovAbbott for help though, he's busy making an ass of himself on @FoxNews while people freeze.
Will be posting updates.
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 17, 2021
Although all of the state's energy sources have been impacted, ERCOT officials said the primary cause of the power outages have been weather-related failures of the state's natural gas providers. "Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now," University of Texas at Austin energy resources professor Michael Webber told the Texas Tribune.
Another round of precipitation is forecasted across Texas Wednesday night, which will likely exacerbate icy roads and other transportation challenges.
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As Texas gets ready to lift the mandatory mask mandate on March 10, food and bar workers gathered at the Texas Capitol to express their frustration with the lack of COVID-19 precautions without adequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine.The event, which began at 1 p.m. on Monday, was hosted by the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Restaurant Organizing Project and The Amplified Sound Coalition.
Christa McWhirter<p>Crystal Maher, a member of the Restaurant Organizing Project, stands in front of the Texas Capitol to express to other protesters in attendance how not being eligible for a vaccine has impacted her ability to safely keep her job. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Kiara Collins, Eric Santos and Taylor Escamilla are all essential workers who have been questioning their safety in their workplace. As many of the other protesters, the three wore masks with the word "Expendable" on it. According to Collins, they were only given to essential workers in attendance to represent how they have been treated since the onset of COVID-19.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>As Maher continues to introduce speakers, two essential workers who came out to support the protest, record as counter-protesters heckled the event's speakers.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Some of the counter-protesters in attendance were live streamers from InfoWars, an extremist organization, who heckled speakers until the rally dispersed. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>A representative of the Del Valle Community Coalition spoke about the impact the lack of vaccine access has had on the Del Valle area. As she attempted to give her speech, anti-masking protesters yelled at her causing many people to attempt to block them out.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Protesters blocked the way of anti-mask counter protesters as they heckled the event's speakers and held "My Body My Choice" signs. "It's kind of insane how they're using 'my body, my choice.' It doesn't only affect you. So it's not just your body," Taylor Escamilla said.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Jeanette Gregor, cofounder of Amplified Sound Coalition, also had to fend off counter-protesters as she gave an impassioned speech about the danger essential workers place themselves in by going to work and have yet to qualify for COVID-19 vaccine. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Around 2 p.m., State Troopers began to arrive at the Capitol amid heightening tensions from protesters and counter-protesters. As police presence began to increase, the event came to end about 15 minutes later. Despite the constant back and forth between sides and the arrival of law enforcement, the protest came to end peacefully.</p>
The world has changed drastically over the past year, and South by Southwest, one of Austin's most beloved institutions, has, too.
After being abruptly canceled by the city last year, one week before it was set to kick-off due to the increasing understanding of the potential impact of COVID-19, it returns this year in a virtual format March 16-20.
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Austin Public Health will release first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments on a weekly basis starting Monday evening. The specific days and number of appointments made available will depend on the weekly allocation from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Previously, APH released first dose appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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