- The rare deep freeze continues to wreak havoc on the energy industry with Texas oil wells and refineries halted and restrictions enforced on natural gas and crude pipeline operators
- Suppliers from Texas to North Dakota have now also been forced to impose unprecedented rolling blackouts because of higher power demand in a bid to prevent the collapse of their networks
- In Texas, wind turbines – which account for a fifth of the state’s energy – have frozen solid and contributed to the state’s power woes with temperatures plummeting to a bitter -20F
- More than 4 million people in the Lone Star State were without power last night and many residents took desperate refuge in their cars for warmth as their homes turned to ice blocks
- Joe Biden declared an emergency in Texas Sunday night as federal officials ramped up their support
- The current crisis started to unfold when freezing temperatures that started at the beginning of the month sent prices for heating fuels, including oil and natural gas, surging higher
- The rapidly dropping temperatures resulted in gas pipelines seizing up, wind turbines freezing and oil wells shutting
PUBLISHED: 14:31 AEDT, 16 February 2021 | UPDATED: 03:29 AEDT, 17 February 2021
The brutal winter storm that is currently hitting the US has sparked an energy crisis with the cold blast freezing natural gas pipelines and wind turbines – as electricity and oil prices surge to record highs and about five million Texas homes are plunged into darkness with rolling blackouts.
The rare deep freeze continues to wreak havoc on the energy industry with Texas oil wells and refineries halted and restrictions enforced on natural gas and crude pipeline operators.
Suppliers from Texas to North Dakota have now also been forced to impose unprecedented rolling blackouts because of higher power demand in a bid to prevent the collapse of their networks.
In Texas, wind turbines – which account for a fifth of the state’s energy – have frozen solid and contributed to the state’s power woes as temperatures plummet to a bitter -20F.
More than 4 million people in the Lone Star state were without power overnight and many residents took desperate refuge in their cars for warmth as their homes turned to ice blocks. Power outages were also reported in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.
‘I’ve been following energy markets and grid issues for a while, and I cannot recall an extreme weather event that impacted such a large swath of the nation in this manner — the situation is critical,’ Neil Chatterjee, a member of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told Bloomberg.
The current crisis started to unfold when freezing temperatures that started at the beginning of the month sent prices for heating fuels, including oil and natural gas, surging higher.
The rapidly dropping temperatures resulted in gas pipelines seizing up, wind turbines freezing and oil wells shutting. It occurred at a time when demand for heating – from households and businesses – surged to record highs. MISSOURI: Snowplows form a gangplow to clear the snow on Highway 270 in Des Peres, Missouri on Monday. St. Louis received about eight inches of snow as temperatures remained around zero for the day, with real feel temperatures about 16 degrees below zeroTEXAS: Dan Bryant and his wife Anna huddle by the fire with sons Benny, 3, and Sam, 12 weeks, along with their dog Joey, also wearing two doggie sweaters, with power out and temperatures dropping inside their home after a winter storm brought snow and freezing temperatures to North TexasA map from poweroutage.us showed that nearly 5 million people were without power in Texas, and several hundred thousand in Louisiana and Oregon
Mexico blames US as big freeze leaves millions without power
Freezing weather in Texas led to a chain of events that left almost 5 million customers in northern Mexico without power Monday as a shortage of natural gas disrupted electricity production.
Mexico’s government-owned utility, the Federal Electricity Commission, said its operations were left short as the winter storm in Texas froze natural gas pipelines. It said some private power plants also began shutting down Sunday night. Private plants supply about 80% of power in northern Mexico.
Mexico uses gas to generate about 60% of its power, compared to about 40% in the United States. Mexico built pipelines to take advantage of cheap natural gas from the U.S., often obtained by fracking in Texas, but Mexico does not allow fracking in its own territory.
The utility said U.S. electricity demand also rose as temperatures plunged across the border, leading to much higher prices. It said gas prices had risen from about $3 per million BTUs to as much as $600 in recent days.
The commission said that by midday Monday it had restored power to about 65% of the 4.8 million customers affected by the blackout, mainly in the northern border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.
It was the latest embarrassing failure for the Federal Electricity Commission, the government utility that has become a pet project for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who wants to reduce the role of private power generation.
The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities across 14 states, called for rolling outages because the supply of reserve energy had been exhausted. Some utilities said they were starting blackouts, while others urged customers to reduce power usage.
Surging demand, driven by people trying to keep their homes warm, and cold weather knocking some power stations offline had pushed Texas’ system beyond the limits.
President Joe Biden has declared an emergency in Texas to pledge federal aid to the state. The crisis has sparked concerns about how the energy landscape may change amid the push to rely on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.
As nightfall threatened to plummet temperatures again into single digits in Texas, officials warned that homes in the state still without power would likely not have heat until at least Tuesday.
‘Things will likely get worse before they get better,’ said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the county of nearly 5 million people around Houston.
Temperatures nosedived into the single-digits as far south as San Antonio, and homes that had already been without electricity for hours had no certainty about when the lights and heat would come back on, as the state’s overwhelmed power grid began imposing blackouts that are typically only seen in 100-degree Fahrenheit.
‘We’re living through a really historic event going on right now,’ said Jason Furtado, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, pointing to all of Texas under a winter storm warning and the extent of the freezing temperatures.
State officials said surging demand, driven by people trying to keep their homes warm, and cold weather knocking some power stations offline had pushed Texas’ system beyond the limits.
‘This weather event, it’s really unprecedented. We all living here know that,’ said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. He defended preparations made by grid operators and described the demand on the system as record-setting.
‘This event was well beyond the design parameters for a typical, or even an extreme, Texas winter that you would normally plan for. And so that is really the result that we’re seeing,’ Woodfin said. MISSOURI: A man uses a snow shovel as he attempts to clear his big rig, stuck in snow in downtown St. Louis during a snow storm on MondayTEXAS: People try to free their cars from the snow in Waco on Monday after record snowfall blanketed the state and caused rolling blackoutsKANSAS: A man clears snow from a driveway in Prairie Village where temperatures are expected to drop to -9 degrees
Three people were killed in North Carolina in the early hours of Tuesday when a tornado ripped through Brunswick County, destroying homes, downing power lines and snapping trees in half (pictured: damage left in Brunswick County after the tornado ripped through)
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) sought to cut power use in response to a winter record of 69,150 megawatts on Sunday evening, more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak in January 2018.
About 10,500 MW of customer load was shed at the highest point, enough power to serve approximately 2 million homes, it said, adding that extreme weather caused many generating units across fuel types to trip offline and become unavailable.
‘Controlled outages will continue through today and into early tomorrow, possibly all of tomorrow,’ Dan Woodfin, director of systems operations at ERCOT, told a briefing.
The storms knocked out nearly half the state’s wind power generation capacity on Sunday. Wind generation ranks as the second-largest source of electricity in Texas, accounting for 23% of state power supplies, ERCOT estimates.
Of the 25,000-plus MW of wind power capacity normally available in Texas, 12,000 MW were out of service on Sunday morning, an ERCOT spokeswoman said.
An emergency notice issued by the regulator urged customers to limit power usage and prevent an uncontrolled system-wide outage.
The spot price of electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000% on Monday.
Due to the extreme cold across the region where it operates, Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool said it had directed member utilities to implement rolling blackouts.
‘In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and it marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,’ Executive Vice President Lanny Nickell said in a statement.
In Dallas, officials told residents to refrain from calling 911 to report power outages as the 911 call center became overwhelmed with power outage calls.
TEXAS: Treacherous driving conditions brought on by the storm have left roadways largely deserted outside DallasTEXAS: State officials said surging demand, driven by people trying to keep their homes warm, and cold weather knocking some power stations offline had pushed Texas’ system beyond the limitsTEXAS: As nightfall threatened to plummet temperatures again into single digits, officials warned that homes still without power would likely not have heat until at least TuesdayTENNESSEE: A 10-year-old boy in Tennessee tragically died after falling into a frozen pond (above) and drowning. His sister, 6, is currently in critical condition, after also falling in
TEXAS: 4.38 million people in the Lone Star State are currently without power as of Monday night (pictured: In order to save electricity, the promenade lights and screens are turned off in front of American Airlines Center which was to host the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars NHL hockey game)+MISSISSIPPI: A sign warns motorists after a sudden heavy bout of snow and frozen rain on MS Highway 463 in Madison, north of Jackson+KENTUCKY: Snow falls at the United Parcel Service (UPS) WorldPort hub located at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport in LouisvilleTEXAS: A rare winter snowfall measuring at least half a foot hit central Texas as the State Capitol and Congress Avenue becomes nearly impassable
Two people have died in Texas from suspected cold exposure, including a 78-year-old man who fell in his front lawn, and a 60-year-old homeless man in Houston who refused shelter and was later found dead at an overpass.
The youngest of the victims was in Tennessee, where a 10-year-old boy fell into a frozen pond and drowned. The boy’s sister, six, also plunged through the ice and remains in hospital in critical condition.
Elsewhere across the country, the storm has already impacted the delivery of new COVID-19 vaccine shipments, which are now expected to be delayed until at least midweek. Massive power outages across Houston included a facility storing 8,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, leaving health officials scrambling to find takers at the same time authorities were pleading for people to stay home.
Frozen roads in Austin caused an 18-wheeler to careen out of control. A man nearly lost his life, jumping out of the way just seconds before a car lost control and crashed into a police cruiser, according to CBS.
A half-dozen Houston residents are being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after using a charcoal grill to warm their home, officials said.
Cy-Fair Fire Department revealed six people were transported to the hospital after using the grill for approximately four hours. Two were said to be in critical condition. Four children, between the ages of five and 10, were among those hospitalized.
‘Please remember to never run a generator or grill inside your home,’ the department tweeted. ‘These produce carbon monoxide, which is a deadly, colorless and odorless gas.’
TEXAS: The Trinity River in Fort Worth is mostly frozen after a snow storm Monday that saw millions lose power