Rolling power blackouts in effect across Texas as massive winter storm drives demand for electricity

Interstate 35 near Stassney Lane in Austin was blanketed with snow on the morning of Feb. 15. A major winter storm affected the entire state of Texas. Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Texas’ electrical grid operator is implementing rolling blackouts across most of the state Monday after a massive winter storm brought unprecedented demand for electricity and forced multiple power-generating units offline.

The blackouts began at 1:25 a.m. Central time. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said they would likely last “throughout the morning and could be initiated until this weather emergency ends.”

“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a press release.

The blackouts are designed to reduce demand for electricity until capacity can be restored. ERCOT officials hinted on Sunday that they might be necessary, saying they’d most likely last between 10 minutes to 45 minutes at a time.

The storm that hit Texas is rare for both its scope and its intensity. On Sunday, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for all 254 counties. Cities like Dallas and Austin had temperatures in the single digits Monday morning. Close to the coast in places like Houston and Corpus Christi, the weather was in the teens.

ERCOT announced Sunday night that it had set a winter record for power demand, reaching 69,150 megawatts between 6 and 7 p.m. ERCOT said Monday morning that 30,000 megawatts of power generation had been forced off the system. The grid operator also said it would provide an update at 10:30 a.m. Central time Monday.

The storm has shut down much of the state. Numerous roads are iced over, many schools have closed and, at Gov. Greg Abbott’s request, President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency declaration across the state.