Officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which maintains about 90% of the state's power grid, said that they are no longer mandating controlled power outages and are instructing utility companies to restore power. This process will take time. Some energy customers may still be without power as those companies work to bring circuits back online or because of damage caused by ice, fallen trees and downed power lines.
The reason ERCOT is now able to allow utility companies to restore power is because a number of generators have been restored since going offline earlier in the week. Additionally, with so many large customers, such as factories, shut down to the emergency, demand for power was lower than anticipated, which also helped speed up the restoration process, Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin said during a press conference Thursday morning.
However, ERCOT officials did warn the public that additional power outages could be forthcoming if demand for electricity outpaces the available supply. This scenario is what triggered the controlled outages—which were intended to be rolling but, in the Austin area, have lasted for days—in the first place.
Had ERCOT not directed utilities to cut power to customers, there was a possibility that the entire grid would have collapsed, leaving the state without power for weeks—or even longer. "It was seconds and minutes," CEO Bill Magness said of the prospect of a total grid blackout early Monday morning, when hundreds of thousands of Austin energy customers—and millions of other Texans across the state—lost power.
Now that ERCOT is no longer mandating outages, Austin Energy is in the process of restoring power to its customers, prioritizing those who have gone without the longest, Chief of Staff Stuart Reilly said during a Facebook live hosted by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. As of 11:16 p.m., 56,788 Austin Energy customers—or about 11%—were still without power. This is a significant improvement from Wednesday evening, when about 27% of customers were still impacted.
(Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison/Facebook)
The restoration process takes time, however. Austin Energy is restoring power in sections to avoid overloading the system. As power is restored, utility companies run the risk of cold load pickup, which occurs when a circuit is restored only to be quickly overloaded by lights, appliances and thermostats left on prior to the outage. To avoid this, Reilly asked customers still without power to turn off everything except one light. Those who have power at this point should continue conservation measures.
The power crisis resulted in a water crisis in Austin and many other regions across the state. Austin Water issued a boil water notice Wednesday evening due to a power outage at its largest water treatment plant and dropping pressure across the system caused by a surge in demand precipitated by dripping faucets and burst pipes. Although power has since been restored at the treatment plant, the utility is still facing a water shortage and the boil water notice remains in effect.
"We do not yet have a timeline for when water may be restored," Chief of Support Services Anna Bryan-Borja said during the Facebook live.
Although Austin Water previously recommended customers drip their faucets in an effort to avoid frozen or burst pipes, the water shortage issue has prompted them to change their advice. Now, the utility is recommending that customers take conservation measures or turn off their water to prevent pipe problems.
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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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