ERCOT chief: 'We are completely back to normal operations' as of Feb. 19

ERCOT president and chief executive Bill Magness (left) was joined by the electric grid manager's senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin on Feb. 19 for a briefing on the company's emergency operations. (Screenshot via ERCOT livestream)
ERCOT president and chief executive Bill Magness (left) was joined by the electric grid manager's senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin on Feb. 19 for a briefing on the company's emergency operations. (Screenshot via ERCOT livestream)

ERCOT president and chief executive Bill Magness (left) was joined by the electric grid manager's senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin on Feb. 19 for a briefing on the company's emergency operations. (Screenshot via ERCOT livestream)

In a call with members of the media early Feb. 19, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas announced that the state electric grid manager had returned to normal operations after days of widespread outages caused by severe winter conditions this week.

“We just got the notice from our control room that we have left the last stage of emergency operations. So we are completely back to normal operations as of now," said Bill Magness, ERCOT president and chief executive officer, shortly after 10:35 a.m. Feb. 19.

The announcement came less than one day after Gov. Greg Abbott said power had been restored to most Texas homes affected by ongoing electric supply shortages. However, thousands of Texans still remain without power due to more localized equipment failures related to the week's winter storms.

"As folks are getting their power restored at a very regular clip now, there may still be some outages that have to do with fallen trees or broken equipment that are out there in the electric company systems and they’re out there managing those as well. But any outages that were associated with the rotating outages that ERCOT had to order should be getting back very soon," Magness said.

Magness also took time during the briefing to recount why he believes ERCOT—which manages the flow of power throughout most of Texas, but does not own its own generation or transmission infrastructure—had no choice but to order statewide outages beginning early Feb. 15 as the winter storm rolled across the state. Magness said around 40% of the state's expected generation was lost throughout the system at that time, and that the outages allowed ERCOT to keep the state's grid from further collapsing.


"I know it’s hard to imagine a much worse event right now, but ... if we had not taken that action, I’m pretty sure that we wouldn't be sitting here today talking about ending outages," he said. "We’d be talking about when we might estimate weeks or months from now that we’d see the power system repaired, and we’d still see people suffering from outages just as they would have, just as they did, under the outages that we directed. So doing nothing was not really an option."

Magness and Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's senior director of system operations, also said the winterization of power generators—an emergency legislative item Abbott called for Feb. 18—had previously been addressed by some power providers following a winter storm in 2011 that prompted a federal review of widespread regional outages initiated at that time.

"In theory, all of them are weatherized to some extent, and so that’s the question now, how well they were weatherized," Woodfin said. "I think that’s one of the things that we’re going to have to look more at, is did they trip because of lack of weatherization? And we’ll get that through this request for information to find out what was going on."

The urgent preparation for winter conditions had been a top recommendation given to regional power entities in a report published by federal energy regulators months after the 2011 weather event.

Magness also declined to directly respond to accusations levied by state officials including Abbott that ERCOT had failed during the power crisis this week, and said the council will participate in upcoming state and federal reviews of its actions and possible improvements for managing the Texas grid.

However, he said the actions taken by ERCOT staff early this week beginning system outages was necessary.

"There are always things we can do better, but the decisions that the operators made about 1:25 on Sunday night, Monday morning, to protect the system given the dire conditions they were seeing, that’s a decision I’ll defend," he said. "If the failure is in that, I guess we’d have to disagree. But I think if the failure was in other areas, certainly, we’ll talk about anything that we did that we can improve.”
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


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