Power failure: What warnings did ERCOT send and when?

Gov. Greg Abbott and several lawmakers have repeatedly said they don’t feel ERCOT officials adequately warned the public about the potential for extended blackouts.

ERCOT officials on the other hand said they weren’t expecting to have to take such drastic measures.

Below is a timeline of notices sent by ERCOT in the week before the storm and on the day the storm hit Texas.

Countdown to a storm

This timeline is derived from Operating Messages put out by ERCOT. You can read all the messages here.

On February 8, ERCOT notified power generators freezing temperatures were on the way and would last from February 11 to 15.

“Review fuel supplies, prepare to preserve fuel to best serve peak load, and notify ERCOT of any known or anticipated fuel restrictions, Review Planned Resource outages and consider delaying maintenance or returning from outage early, Review and implement winterization procedures. Notify ERCOT of any changes or conditions that could affect system reliability,” the rest of the notice read.

Similar notices went out on February 10, 11 and 13.

In fact, a February 11 news release read the state “could set a new all-time winter peak demand record Monday morning, Feb. 15.” The full news release is here.

On February 14, the day the storm moved in, ERCOT asked the public to conserve energy.

“We are experiencing record-breaking electric demand due to the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped Texas,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness. “At the same time, we are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units. We are asking Texans to take some simple, safe steps to lower their energy use during this time.”

At 3:17 p.m., ERCOT issued a watch for “a projected reserve capacity shortage with no market solution available.”

At 5:19 p.m., ERCOT sent this message to power plants. “Watch for the freezing precipitation event which has caused multiple forced Transmission outages across the ERCOT Region.”

At 9:58 p.m., ERCOT canceled the “projected reserve capacity shortage” watch.

At 12:17 a.m. on February 15, ERCOT moved to a Level 1 Energy Emergency Alert and asked for power conservation.

At 1:12 a.m. ERCOT moved to EEA 2. “There may be a need to implement rotating outages. ERCOT is urging consumers and businesses to reduce electricity usage.”

At1:25 a.m. ERCOT was at EEA Level 3, the highest level. “Rotating outages are in progress to maintain frequency. ERCOT is asking consumers and businesses to reduce electricity use.”

ERCOT then ordered energy providers, like CenterPoint, to start cutting power to homes and businesses to avoid a complete statewide blackout.

“We lost about 40-percent of the generation that we expected to have on the system, that’s 40-percent of the supply to serve the demand customers needed,” said ERCOT CEO Bill Magness.

ERCOT reported a total of 185 power plants were offline during the storm.

It took until Friday, February 19 for ERCOT to come out of emergency operation conditions and resume normal operations.

‘ERCOT Failed’

Those blunt words came from Gov. Abbott. However, Magness said he believes ERCOT was properly prepared for the storm and adequately warned both lawmakers and the public. Magness said ERCOT had an accurate weather forecast and accurately forecasted customer demand.

“I don’t think the forecast of the demand was all that off because we were seeing extremely high demand,” said Magness.

Magness said what was not expected was 185 power-producing units going offline at the height of the storm. He also said power plants were warned ahead of time to get operations in order to handle freezing temperatures and what could be record-setting winter time customer demand.

“They understood there was a big storm coming and we needed all hands on deck and all power on the system and that’s what they were planning to provide,” said Magness.

As KPRC 2 Investigates has reported, winterization plans at power plants are voluntary and ERCOT only spot checks about 100 out of 600 plants each year to determine if plans are being followed. Magness said ERCOT has no authority to order plants to enact any type of plan and Texas does not penalize power providers who don’t properly weatherize their operations.

Exactly why so many plants went offline during the storm is the focus of state House and Senate hearings in Austin next week. Abbott is asking legislators to make winterization plans mandatory. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which regulates power producers, is expected to adopt mandatory weatherization standards in November. Once adopted, power plants could face stiff penalties if weatherization standards are not followed.

40 Seconds

Magness did also address questions about remarks made during a February 9 ERCOT board meeting. During the meeting, Magness only spent 40 seconds out of a nearly two-and-a-half long meeting telling the board about the approaching storm.

“It’s actually going to be winter here, pretty soon as many of you, as those of you in Texas know. We do have a cold front coming this way, we’ll probably see our winter peak later this week or in the very early part of next week and operations has issued an operating condition notice just to make sure everyone is up to speed with their winterization and we’re ready for the several days of pretty frigid temperatures to come our way, so more on that over the next few days but it does look like we’ll have a little bit of winter weather to contend with during the course, through the rest of this week,” Magness told the board before moving on to other business.

Magness responded to questions about the brevity of his report by saying it was not meant to indicate he wasn’t taking the severity of the storm seriously.

“I didn’t mean to convey unconcerned, I think it’s the first thing I mentioned when I started briefing the board. We were in the first stage of providing notice to various market participants that we were going to see, we thought we were going to see significant issues. And as the week progressed and the forecast sharpened on the weather it looked increasingly like we were going to see something significant like we did,” said Magness. “if what I said indicated we weren’t concerned I really was just trying to notify the board this was something we got to keep an eye.”

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”