Rolling blackouts 'stuck' in statewide shortage, 40% of Austin without electricity likely through Tuesday
This story was updated at 7:15 p.m. to include the most recent number of affected customers reported by Austin Energy.
Nearly 12 hours into a statewide power outage caused by severe winter weather, city officials answered some pressing questions, such as when power might be restored (likely not until tomorrow) and why the outages are lasting so long (to preserve power for "critical loads," such as hospitals).
When will power be restored?
Officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates about 90% of the state's electric load, said Monday morning that statewide outages will continue through Tuesday morning and possibly into the afternoon.
What is causing the outages?
The massive winter storm led to unprecedented demand for electricity across Texas while also forcing some generating units—such as power plants and, to a lesser extent, wind turbines—to shut down.
As a result, ERCOT began implementing rolling blackouts early Monday morning in an effort to restore the power grid. "Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a statement early Monday morning.
Although these blackouts were intended to be brief, lasting between 10 and 45 minutes, Austin residents have reported hours-long outages.
Are the outages "rolling"?
When ERCOT directed energy providers to implement rolling outages, Austin Energy randomly selected areas that did not include "critical loads," such as hospitals, fire stations and water treatment plants, General Manager Jackie Sargent said during a midday press conference.
However, due to the severity of the situation, Austin Energy quickly withdrew power from all of the areas that do not include critical loads. "There's no more energy that we can shut off at this time to bring these customers back on," Sargent said.
As a result, the outages are not rolling but rather static for those customers currently without power. "Basically we're stuck here until we can get some reprieve from ERCOT ... and get into rotating those outages," she added. "It's a tough situation. We understand that."
Q: why can't @austinenergy turn power back on?
A: @austinenergy says state has ordered power off. So all non-critical circuits turned off. If you have power, it's likely because your house shares circuit w/ hospital, fire station, 911 center, or other critical building
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 15, 2021
Where are the outages?
All over town. Austin Energy reported that 212,634 customers—or more than 40%—were without power, as of 7:07 p.m. Monday. A full map of impacted areas can be found here.
The utility planned outages in areas that do not include critical loads. "The outages are across the system and they are designated by specific circuits," Sargent said, explaining that those areas with power are likely connected to a circuit serving a hospital or other designated critical load.
My power is out. What should I be doing to stay warm and safe?
Austin Energy and the city of Austin advise the following:
- Stay inside
- Dress in layers
- Avoid downed power lines
- Don't use generators indoor
- Use flashlight and battery-operated lanterns rather than candles and kerosene lanterns, which carry fire risk and fume hazards
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed and follow USDA guidelines regarding food safety during a power outage
- Turn off major appliances to avoid overloading electric lines when power is restored
- Report the outage online here
I need to get to a warming center. How do I get there?
The Palmer Events Center opened as a warming center on Monday morning, and evening shelter is available upon request. Although city officials recommend that Austinites stay off the roads, they are encouraging residents who need to relocate to a warmer place to travel during daylight hours as a precaution. Residents can call 512-305-ICEE for more information about warming centers and 211 for food assistance.
Cold weather shelters, which serve homeless residents and are typically only open at night, are now open 24 hours a day. More than 280 people stayed at such shelter locations Sunday evening, the city's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Juan Ortiz said.
A homeless camp along Lady Bird Lake was covered with snow on Monday. (Austonia staff)
What can I do to help?
Austin Energy is asking residential customers who have power to conserve energy by doing the following:
- Setting the thermostat at 68 degrees or lower
- Turning off lights that aren't needed
- Unplugging items not in use
- Keep blinds open during daylight hours and closed during nighttime
The city of Austin is also asking residents to stay off of the roads unless absolutely necessary so as to keep them open for ambulances and other first responders. The Texas Departments of Public Safety and Transportation are advising the same.
Crews are putting themselves in harm's way to clear the roads for emergency response vehicles and essential workers. The freezing temps are continuing to create DANGEROUS road conditions. Please, stay home. #ATXtraffic #WinterStorm #EndTheStreakTX pic.twitter.com/0JjNnbpNGD
— TxDOT Austin (@TxDOTAustin) February 15, 2021
"This is one of those things that happen once in several generations that will require us to pull together and help one another," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.
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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would rescind business capacity limits and a statewide masking mandate on Texas Independence Day, he framed it as a step forward. "With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny," he said during a press conference at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock.
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(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Austonia has hired Claire Partain as a reporter covering Austin FC, the MLS expansion team that will be Austin's first major league sports franchise.
Partain is a former sports editor for the The University Star, Texas State University's daily newspaper. She edited, covered sports, produced podcasts, and hosted a pre-game TXST football tailgate live series. Partain has been freelancing with the company since January, prior to accepting a staff position.
A native of Fairfield, Texas, Partain grew up playing youth soccer. In her high school years, she played alongside her mother in what was then called the Freestone County Hispanic Women's Soccer League.
Claire's coverage philosophy: "I like to bring out the humanity of sports, and I want to make this the most accessible sports coverage possible."
She notes that soccer is the predominant sport for young people. "It's a global sport, and we're more connected to the world than older generations."
That approach fits the team's already visible presence in Austin, says Austonia CEO Mark Dewey. "Austin FC has established itself as a leading Austin brand, one that stands for a more unified Austin community, a bigger global presence for Austin and fun. Austonia shares those values."
Partain's soccer coverage begins immediately, with her free, hosted text service—Austonia FC. For updates, special access and inside info, all moderated by Claire, sign up below.
Austonia is the city's independent, free, locally-owned and all-digital source for Austin news, information and entertainment.
Connect with Austonia through its daily email newsletter and text updates, @austonianews Instagram feed, @austonianews and @austinist Twitter feeds, @austonianews Facebook page and its website austonia.com.
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Austin Public Health will release another batch of first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Thursday on Wednesday evening. A department spokesperson estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 slots will be available.
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