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Rolling blackouts hit Texas as cold snap bites

Mass power outages rocked Texas in mid-February, after a winter storm brought days of snow and Arctic temperatures to the state. As of 17 February, more than 3mn Texan homes and businesses were without power following a spike in energy demand and a reduction in available capacity.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott told Fox News that frozen wind and solar assets were to blame for the state’s energy crisis. However, energy experts were quick to dispel this theory. Representatives for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – which manages the state’s power grid – told a news conference that fossil gas, coal and nuclear generators were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as renewables. 

On 17 February, ERCOT reported that 18 GW of renewable generation, mostly from wind, was offline. Meanwhile, some 28 GW of generation from thermal sources had dropped off the grid. Texas typically has a generating capacity of some 67 GW in the winter, compared with 86 GW in the summer months, when the use of air conditioners drives up demand. Power plants of all types go offline for maintenance during the state’s normally mild winters. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Texas counts on onshore wind to make up only 10% of its winter capacity, while fossil gas and coal make up 82% of the state’s winter energy mix. The staggering imbalance between energy supply and energy demand during the cold snap prompted utilities to impose rolling blackouts, in which given zones have their power shut off for a restricted period of time. 

Texas Democrats lambasted the state’s Republican leadership in a statement on 15 February, arguing that lawmakers should pursue a more diversified – and resilient – energy mix.

‘Republican Governor Greg Abbott last month attacked President Biden’s green energy expansion plan and said it was a threat to Texans,’ the statement reads. ‘Yet, if we had a governor open to alternative sources of energy, Texas might be in a situation in which we have energy reserves to efficiently power our state.’

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that natural gas wells in the region were affected by the freezing temperatures, which have disrupted production. Pipeline compressors also lost power, further reducing deliveries of the fuel. Refineries in the area also halted production.

On 21 February, President Biden declared that a major disaster has occurred in Texas and ordered federal assistance to supplement local recovery efforts. The EIA has said it could take weeks for the state’s energy system to resume normal operations. 

News Item details


Journal title: Energy World

Countries: USA -

Subjects: Energy security - Energy consumption -

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