Power outages for a large swath of Austin Energy customers that began in the early morning hours of Feb. 15 have stretched into the afternoon. As of 2:20 p.m., more than 190,000 Austin Energy customers are without power, and those outages could stretch into the night or the following day, according to General Manager Jackie Sargent.
Under direction from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Sargent said Austin Energy has maxed out the number of customers it can take offline to conserve energy use. The remaining customers with power are likely tied to a circuit that includes a critical service such as a hospital or a water utility.
"We’ve gotten to that maximum point. We’re basically stuck here until we get some reprieve from ERCOT," Sargent said at a Feb. 15 press conference.
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Rotating power outages began in the early morning hours of Feb. 15 for Austin Energy customers after 3-5 inches of snow fell across the Austin area overnight.
With electricity demand spiking during the winter storm and supply struggling to keep up, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas ordered utility companies to reduce demand on the system. Companies typically achieve that reduction in demand by instituting rolling blackouts, according to ERCOT, as Austin Energy did the morning of Feb. 15.
Although the outages typically last 10-40 minutes, they can last longer if the grid requires, which, Austin Energy said is what is happening Feb. 15.
“The required outages are more extensive than anyone expected and do not allow us to bring affected customers back online at this time,” Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent said via Twitter. “We will continue working with ERCOT and working through our contingency plans to get power back on to customers as soon as the grid allows.”
Austin Energy has a list of “critical loads” that are not subject to blackouts, such as hospitals. For all its other customers, the company said its system randomly selects which areas rotate to meet the ERCOT directives.
The rolling blackouts are included in the utility’s outage map, which shows more than 100,000 customers without power as of 8 a.m. Feb. 15.