The electricity side of the Texas utility crisis ended Friday with warmer weather and an end to emergency conditions on the state grid.
Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness said Friday morning that the grid has stabilized enough that it can return to “the normal operating conditions we had before this storm came at us.”
“There’s enough [power] generation in the system now to return to those normal operations, and we don’t believe we’ll need to go back,” Magness continued.
By Friday morning, CPS Energy had finished reconnecting most of the approximately 10,000 customers who remained without power on Thursday. As of 2:40 p.m., only 600 CPS Energy customers had no electricity, with utility officials saying that some equipment still needs repair after this week’s intense conditions on the local energy grid.
“We attacked that … 10,000 by prioritizing, looking for the customers that had been out the longest,” CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams told reporters early Friday. “Some of those repairs were very complicated to do, but our team hung in there to do it.”
Thousands still remain without water in northern San Antonio along Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 281 – areas that might not see water service until Monday. The San Antonio Water System is restoring pressure to high-elevation parts of its system, which lost pressure after CPS Energy cut power to some SAWS pumps in a desperate effort to reduce electricity demand. SAWS is also dealing with thousands of leaks across its system that reduce pressure.
CPS Energy had by late Thursday finished restoring power to all five remaining SAWS pumps that had been left without electricity, Rudy Garza, the utility’s chief customer engagement officer, said Friday.
“All of the pumping stations across the system that support SAWS’ efforts have power and are operational,” Garza said early Friday.
The choice to cut the water pumps’ power supply and spare other critical sites, such as hospitals and fire stations, was one of many tough decisions CPS Energy crews faced in a harrowing week that saw nearly half of its 860,000 customers shivering in the dark and without water, many for multiple days.
More than 4 million homes and businesses across Texas were without power at some point, according to ERCOT. Some have called the disaster the largest forced electricity outage in U.S. history.
In San Antonio, the number of homes and businesses that lost power reached a high point earlier this week of 372,000, Garza said.
“It was a very difficult situation, and I know every single person had to sacrifice and persevere through this really difficult time,” Gold-Williams said Friday.
Many Texans are struggling to understand how the core utilities that underpin civilization – heat, light, and water – proved so vulnerable to a fierce winter storm. Energy operators say their industry was caught off-guard by multiple days of ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures across the state.
Texas’s natural gas systems proved vulnerable to ice and stressed by the competing demand for both heat and power. Coal and nuclear plants were hobbled by freezing temperatures. Wind and solar resources, which are increasing their share of Texas’ power supply, didn’t provide enough generating capacity to make up the difference left by traditional power plants forced offline.
Texas Republican leaders have seized on ERCOT as the source of the state’s power woes, despite the grid operator’s lack of regulatory authority. Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott called on ERCOT leadership to resign.
“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” Abbott told KTRK Houston during an interview Tuesday evening. “ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and they showed that they were not reliable.”
ERCOT leaders have said ordering blackouts across the state was their only option to avoid a catastrophic grid failure that would have taken weeks or months to repair.
“Doing nothing was not really an option to protect the safety of the electric system and get us back on our feet as soon as we could,” Magness said Friday. “And ERCOT doesn’t run power plants, and we can’t make them work if they get broken in storm damage or otherwise.”
On Thursday, Abbott pivoted to calling for the Texas Legislature to adopt stricter regulations for power companies to better prepare their plants, stations, and wires for extreme weather. The State Senate and House will hold separate hearings on Feb. 25 to delve into the crisis.
State Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) said he would draft legislation to require power plant operators to “fully weatherize and maintain each coal, gas, nuclear, and wind plant to protect from severe weather conditions.”
“This must not be a suggestion or request for study or report, but a mandate that such weather protections be in place to guard against the freezing consequences Texans are currently experiencing,” Allison said in a prepared statement.
A more pressing concern to most San Antonio residents will be CPS Energy’s coming moves to recover the steep fuel costs and other expenses it faced this week. The utility will likely use cash-on-hand, short-term commercial paper debt, and longer-term bonds to pay its bills, Gold-Williams said.
The utility will likely have to spread out the costs over years, but it must make key decisions within the next “60- to 120-day period,” Gold-Williams said, referring to mounting financial woes as the “next tsunami” for the utility.
“We’re still trying to get our hands around the numbers, but it’s going to be huge,” she said.