In a Feb. 17 press conference regarding the ongoing power and water crisis incited by plummeting temperatures across the state, Abbott said 6,000 megawatts of power were added to the Texas grid at about midnight, restoring power to about 1.2 million households in the early hours of Feb. 17. This was made possible through the restoration of the South Texas Nuclear Plant Project, which had shut down, he said.
"In addition to the 1.2 million households that have had power restored already, there will be additional onboarding that will be coming from the South Texas Nuclear [Plant] Project, which began operations early this morning and will complete operations tonight," Abbott said during the press conference. "Through multiple phone calls and actions, the White House has assisted Texas with orders that allow [for] additional power generation or have accelerated nuclear plant restoration."
Additionally, another 2,000 megawatts will be added to the grid over the next 24 hours through coal-produced power, Abbott said, providing power for another 400,000 homes. Small natural gas generators should also add about 3,000 megawatts sporadically over the next 24 hours, providing power for another 600,000 homes, he said.
Despite this progress, however, Abbott said about 19,800 megawatts of gas-generated power remain offline due to either mechanical issues or a lack of gas. Additionally, another 17,200 megawatts of renewable energy are still off the grid either due to freezing wind turbines or a lack of sun to generate solar power.
"Every source of power in the state of Texas has been compromised because of the ultra-cold temperatures or because of equipment failures," Abbott said.
However, additional measures have been taken to get Texas up and running as soon as possible. According to Abbott, an order has been made to ensure that Texans who are subject to regulation by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas—which includes Oncor, CenterPoint Energy, AEP Texas and Texas-New Mexico Power—will have access to power on a rotating basis until power can be fully restored.
Additionally, while some natural gas produced in Texas is currently being shipped outside the state, Abbott issued an order in effect Feb. 17-21 requiring those producers to instead sell that natural gas to Texas power generators.
"That will also increase the power that's going to be produced and sent to homes here in Texas," Abbott said.
Looking to the future, Abbott said the Texas Legislature would begin investigations of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas next week.
"I'm not suggesting in any way that there's been any criminal activity or anything like that—but it is something that needs to be looked at," Abbott said. "It's kind of opaque, the way that it runs, it's not transparent. And one thing that everybody needs out of ERCOT is greater transparency, especially the residents across the state of Texas."
In addition to the investigation, Abbott said preventing another climate-induced energy crisis would be a top priority in the 87th Texas Legislature, which began Jan.12. While Abbott said the state's power system was last reviewed by the Legislature in 2011, some of those previous decisions may be re-evaluated this session.
"This session, we want to make sure that we address these challenges just like we did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey," Abbott said. "This is a different type of climate event—this is a once-in-every-120-year cold front ... but we want to make sure that we are capable of ensuring that the state will be able to withstand cold spells like that happened this time."
In addition to widespread power outages, the winter storm has also resulted in loss of water, busted pipes and boil water notices for many households across Texas.
According to Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as of noon Feb. 17, 332 local water systems had reported impacts to their supplies across 110 counties; 276 of those local water systems had issued boil water notices. Baker said this is due to a lack of power combined with frozen water lines and widespread dripping faucets.
"We've seen over the last 24 hours the number of local drinking water systems being impacted go up significantly," Baker said. "The current population impacted by boil water notices is just under 7 million Texans; the population impacted by nonoperational systems at this time is about 263,958."
In order for boil water notices to be lifted, Baker said bacteriological sampling is required, which can take up to 24 hours. While Texas currently has 135 accredited labs to complete that sampling, Baker said the TCEQ is also coordinating with accredited labs in neighboring states to expedite the sampling process.
"It's an ongoing issue, and these numbers are probably going to grow over the next day or two," he said.
To address damage caused by broken pipes, Abbott urged homeowners and renters to file claims with their insurance companies as soon as possible. For those in areas without insurance coverage, Abbott said individual assistance may be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Texas law [allows] insurance adjusters out of state [to] get a temporary license to do adjusting for disaster claims. That's important because we do expect a lot of people in Texas to have disaster claims ... so we are urging the insurance businesses in Texas to bring in as many insurance adjusters from across the state as possible," Abbott said.
Similarly, to expedite the repair process Abbott said Texas law also allows the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners to issue provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers, which Abbott said he is urging to take place.
"I am also going to be issuing a waiver for plumbers—if they are previously licensed as a plumber but haven't completed continuing education in the last two years—you will be allowed to provide for plumbers, a license, to assist those who have been affected by the winter storm," Abbott said. "The goal is, obviously, we're trying to make sure that we will have as many plumbers as possible to help everyone deal with their plumbing challenges."