Getting Ready For Round 2 and Searching For Answers to the Power Crisis

The jaws of ice are still with us.
The jaws of ice are still with us. Photo by Jack Gorman
With 1.3 million residents still without power in the Houston because of a cold weather event whose effects are now expected to extend into Thursday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a noon Tuesday press conference  the No. 1 priority will be getting electricity restored "to seniors and critical care customers."

Turner said he talked with the head of ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) which oversees power distribution in the state earlier in the day pressing him on the need for relief in the Houston area, which appears to be hardest hit in the state with power outages.

"As I indicated to ERCOT they must provide CenterPoint, Oncor, all your energy distribution transmission providers what they need to restore power as quickly as possible. That must take place. We have to have more generation in this state," said Turner. "It is simply unacceptable at this point for people to be without power at the coldest time in our history in the last 30 years."

"It is simply unacceptable at this point for people to be without power at the coldest time in our history in the last 30 years." — Mayor Turner

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Plans are to restore power to about 400,000 households Tuesday, Turner said, adding that he didn't know when this would happen. Priority is reportedly being given to households that have been without power the longest and other people who have not yet lost power may be taken offline to balance the demands.

The state did gain some power help from the Southwest Power Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Energy) but as U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee pointed out at the press conference, Texas, unlike other states is very isolated with its own power grid and doesn't have mutual power sharing aid established with nearly states. Jackson Lee has been in contact with the federal office appealing for help for Texas from other states including California and New York.

Turner made it clear that while he understands people want him to get this problem fixed, especially with more bad weather expected Tuesday night expected to refreeze ice on the roads, but ERCOT is a state agency over which he has no power.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Abbott reversed himself and called for an investigation of ERCOT, assigning it some of the blame he had previously insisted should just be laid at the feet of private businesses.

Kenny Mercado, senior vice president of CenterPoint Energy, said CenterPoint's distribution system is at 100 percent and the last problems with its transmission operation are being fixed today. All they are waiting on is an OK from ERCOT to go forward with restoring more power, he said. 

COVID-19 testing and vaccinations offered by the city of Houston will remain closed again Wednesday and appointments will be rescheduled. Turner said it was probable that appointments for Thursday will also have to be postponed.

In response to questions, city officials say that although water pressure is low, it is still above required levels and that if someone has no water, it is likely that a pipe has burst at their residence and they should turn off the water. There has been no boil water notice.

Turner did acknowledge the problem with a lag time with 311 calls, saying it was because many of the operators have been working from home because of COVID. Because several of them lost power, they are now being asked to come in to the city office and work from there. The mayor appeals to downtown businesses to aid the conservation effort by turning off their lights in unused offices especially at night.

To date three people have died in the Houston area because of the cold: a homeless man from the extreme temperatures and a mother and daughter who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while sitting in their car.  Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said in the last 24 hours they have run more than 2,200 calls for service. They've had 56 fire calls in the last 24 hours and more than 90 calls for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in the same period.

In a related matter, Houston ISD announced it would remain closed through Thursday and would do remote learning on Friday. 
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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