ERCOT Emergency Board Meeting Reveals Dramatic Details – the Texas Grid Survived Total Blackout With Only Minutes to Spare

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Failure would likely have resulted in a statewide blackout lasting for months while grid was repaired.

This was a devastating event. Power is essential to civilization,” said CEO Bill Magness in his opening statements. In presenting the slides he had prepared for the meeting, Magness said Texas was 4 minutes and 37 seconds from a black-out event. If that had happened, it would have taken weeks, if not months, to get back fully online. Thus, controlled outages were implemented to prevent a statewide blackout lasting months.

The Texas GRID requires a minimum frequency of 60 Hz to continue operating. Once under 59.4 Hz it can only survive for 9 minutes before failing completely, resulting in a statewide blackout requiring months worth of repairs. This slide illustrates the 4 minutes and 23 seconds we spent at that level in the early morning of February 15.

The outages became necessary after Texas lost almost half of its usual power generation due to winter storm Uri that resulted in an unprecedented 162 consecutive hours of below freezing temperatures in Austin. The storm resulted in severe icing on power lines, gas lines, wind turbines, and roads, resulting in a significant negative effect of every fuel generation type.

Over a seventeen hour period, the situation declined rapidly from ERCOT issuing a conservation alert all the way to escalation to Emergency Operations Level 3 which triggers the local energy providers to begin rolling blackouts. In some cities like Austin, the supply shortage was so severe that once they turned some circuits off to “shed” load from the GRID, there was not enough energy supply to rotate the outage circuits between each other. The resulting blackouts lasted multiple days until ERCOT was finally able to resume normal operations more than five days later. By that time frozen pipes and water mains combined with a lack of heat resulted in multiple water supply issues creating both contamination and shortage for millions.

Immediately after the ERCOT meeting concluded, Governor Greb Abbott held a press conference pledging “the legislative session will not end until we fix these [winterization] problems.” He has named the issue an Emergency Priority this session and is asking the legislature to mandate and fund stabilization of the Texas power infrastructure to protect it from future winter weather events.

You can view ERCOT’s slide presentation here.

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