AUSTIN, Texas – Anger over the failure of Texas’ power grid in the face of a record winter freeze increased on Tuesday as millions of residents of the energy capital of the United States continued to tremble with no assurance that their electricity and their heating – for 36 hours or more in many homes – would soon return or stay once it finally did.
“I know people are angry and frustrated,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has woken up more than a million people still without power in his city. “So I am.”
In total, between 2 and 3 million customers in Texas still had no power for nearly two full days after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created an increase in demand for electricity to warm homes. homes unaccustomed to such extreme dips, distorting the state’s electricity grid and causing widespread blackouts. Other inclement weather, including freezing rain, was expected Tuesday evening.
To make matters worse, expectations that the blackouts would be a sacrifice shared by the state’s 30 million residents quickly gave way to a cold reality, as pockets in some of America’s largest cities, including San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin, were left to endure the brunt of a catastrophic power outage and freezing conditions that network operators in Texas knew were coming.
The blackout sparked growing outrage and demands for answers about how Texas – whose Republican leaders last year mocked California over the Democratic-led state’s progressive blackouts – failed such a massive test of a major point of state pride: energy independence. And it crossed politics, as angry Texans took to social media to highlight how, as their neighborhoods froze in darkness on Monday night, downtown skylines glistened despite desperate calls to save money. ‘energy.
“We are very angry. I was watching my neighbor, she is also angry, ”said Amber Nichols, whose north Austin home has had no electricity since Monday morning. “We are all angry that there is no reason to let entire neighborhoods freeze to death. “
She crunched in the ice clad in a parka and galoshes, as her neighbors dug their driveways in six inches of snow to move their cars.
“It’s a complete yawn,” she said.
The toll of the blackouts was of growing concern. Harris County emergency officials have reported “several carbon monoxide deaths” in or around Houston and reminded people not to use cars or gasoline generators indoors. Authorities said three young children and their grandmother, who were trying to warm up, also died Tuesday morning in a house fire in suburban Houston. In Galveston, the medical examiner’s office requested a refrigerated truck to expand storage of the bodies, although County Judge Mark Henry said he was unsure how many deaths were weather-related.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has called for an investigation by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s electricity grid. His outrage struck a very different tone from a day earlier, when he told Texans that ERCOT was putting residential customers first and power was restored to hundreds of thousands of homes.
But a few hours after these assurances, the number of outages in Texas only increased, at one point surpassing 4 million customers.
“This is unacceptable,” Abbott said.
By late Tuesday afternoon, ERCOT officials said part of the power had been restored, but they warned that even those gains were fragile and further blackouts were possible.
The grid began preparing for the storm a week in advance, but reached a breaking point on Monday morning as conditions deteriorated and shut down power plants, the president said. ERCOT, Bill Magness. Some wind turbine generators were iced up, but nearly twice as much energy was wiped out in natural gas and coal-fired power plants. Forcing controlled blackouts was the only way to avoid an even more serious power outage in Texas, Magness said.
“What we are protecting ourselves from is worse,” he said.
Still, Magness said ERCOT couldn’t offer a firm timeline for when power could be fully restored. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Texas had requested 60 generators and that hospitals and nursing homes would be given priority.
Thirty-five heated shelters have been opened to accommodate more than 1,000 people statewide, FEMA said at a briefing. But even they were not spared from the blackouts, as Houston was forced to shut down two on Monday due to a loss of power.
Ed Hirs, an energy researcher at the University of Houston, said the problem was a lack of untimely power plants and a state-wide energy market that does not encourage companies to generate electricity. electricity when demand is low. In Texas, demand peaks in August, at the height of the state’s sweltering summers.
He rejected the fact that the storm exceeded what ERCOT could have predicted.
” It’s absurd. It’s not acceptable, ”Hirs said. “Every eight to ten years we have very bad winters. It is not a surprise.”
Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, said the state’s power grid suffered a longer, deeper and more widespread cold snap than the one Texas had since experienced. decades.
Climate change must also be taken into account, he said.
“We’re going to have to plan for more of that kind of weather. People said it would never happen in Texas, and yet it does. “
Stephanie Murdoch, 51, began bundling up in her Dallas condominium with blankets, two pairs of pants, three pairs of socks, a hat and gloves since the first power cut Monday morning. She said she was worried about another winter weather forecast storm for Tuesday night and the possibility of her house’s pipes bursting.
“There is a serious lack of preparedness on the part of energy companies not to be ready,” Murdoch said.
In Houston, Barbara Matthews said she stayed home until Monday night. It was then that the 73-year-old finally called 911 and was taken to the nearby foundry church, where dozens of other people also took refuge. During the drive, she noticed a subdivision just down the road that had current.
“It’s aggravating that some parts of the street are lit and we don’t have it,” Matthews said. “When they said blackouts, I took them at their word.”
Associated Press editors Jim Vertuno and Acacia Coronado in Austin; Jake Bleiberg and Dave Koenig in Dallas; and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.