Millions are still without power as winter storms continue

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Judson Jones and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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3:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Some blame Texas' wind turbines for the outages — but wind accounts for just a tenth of the winter power

Analysis from CNN's Bill Weir

Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, in Fort Worth, Texas. Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

As some conservatives blame the environmental movement and frozen wind turbines for the power outage disaster in Texas, it's a cold reminder that the path to clean American energy is blocked more by ideology than technology. 

Since wind accounts for a tenth of the Lone Star state's winter power and the Permian Basin leaks and flares enough natural gas to heat two million homes a year, it's a bit like blaming your car battery for a stalled engine when you've run out of gas. 

“Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” former Governor and Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in an interview posted on House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy's website.

While properly engineered turbines have been proven to work from Alaska to Antarctica, many in Texas did freeze up. But so did pipelines, diesel engines and even the reactor at one of the state's two nuclear power plants. 

In typical "Don't Mess with Texas" fashion, the state has its own power grid on purpose, which is a major impediment to creating a national "smart grid," in which a sunny day in Arizona could power primetime in Boston and vice versa.

And like California, there is no financial incentive for power companies to fortify their equipment. It's a Wild West free market, where the wholesale price of electricity went from $22 a megawatt-hour to more than $8,000 when demand spiked — a swing so extreme, some power companies were encouraging customers to sign up with someone else. 

Meanwhile El Paso, a city outside the western boundaries of the Texas grid, not only has a lifeline to the Western US grid, it also had the sense to winterize its power plants after a deep freeze in 2011. They experienced minimal outages this time, only lasting minutes for a few thousand, despite seeing similar temps and weather to the rest of the state.  

3:43 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Texas customers could experience outages in hour-long intervals by today or tomorrow, officials say

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations
Dan Woodfin, ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations KEYE

Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), said they hope to get to the point where they can rotate outages that don’t last longer than an hour at a time.

“The best case at this point is that today or tomorrow we're able to at least get back down to the point where all the consumers are experiencing outages that are no longer than, say, 30 minutes to an hour at a time. So we're actually rotating through people and so they're able to be turned back on for a while, and then another area is turned off and they're turned back on. And I think that's the best case,” Woodfin said.

“I don't think it's likely that we're going to have enough available based on our forecasts and the information that we're getting in from the generators that we're gonna have everybody back on today, or before at least the morning peak tomorrow," he added.

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said the answer really depends on the availability of those generators. 

“We're working with them around the clock. Some of them are facing constraints in getting their generating units back online but they are all working towards that. And if they all come on very quickly, we can restore load very quickly,” Magness said.

Officials didn’t give an estimate on when full restoration could occur. 

 

3:29 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

One Texas university is using swimming pool water and melted snow to flush toilets

From CNN's Dave Alsup

McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, is allowing campus residents to use water from the campus swimming pool to flush their toilets as the city continues to struggle with water problems during the winter storm.

The university posted a statement on Facebook:

“We are able to devise a temporary solution for our on-campus residents by filling toilets with water from the campus swimming pool and using melted snow as a backup. Thanks to our football team and other volunteers who helped carry this water to the residence halls.  However, the lack of water caused us to have to shut down the Gold Star boiler, which gives Gold Star heat.  We have provided transportation to a warming facility, Beltway South, for those Gold Star residents who wanted to take advantage of this options.”

The City of Abilene, which has been battling to restore power to their water plants for days, tweeted some good news in the last hour.  

“Power restored to all of Abilene's water plants,  goal of water service to entire city by end of the day,” according to the post. 

3:26 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

All flights at Houston's Hobby Airport canceled or diverted due to impacted water supply

From CNN’s Keith Allen

All of Wednesday’s remaining flights at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport in Texas have been canceled or diverted as the region continues to struggle with water supply issues following the winter storm.

In a pair of tweets, airport officials say they are working to restore the water supply to the entire airport, even in a limited capacity, Wednesday afternoon.

“For now, all flights have been canceled or diverted for the remainder of the day,” Houston Hobby’s tweets say. “Our team is manually providing non-consumable water to airport restrooms from portable water storage tanks.”

2:52 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

About 40,000 customers still without power in Louisiana as more snow and ice is forecasted

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

Entergy, a power company for Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, says that about 40,000 of its customers in Louisiana are still without power as a result of the winter storms that swept the area, according to a statement.

The outages are "primarily in the hardest hit areas of Greater Baton Rouge, Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes," the company said.

Entergy also encouraged their customers in northern Louisiana "to monitor another system of snow and ice that is forecast to impact our state throughout the day today and into Thursday."

On Monday, Entergy reported that 24,600 of its customers were without power in the state.

2:58 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Current winter weather likely to cost billions in damages 

From CNN's Brandon Miller

City of Richardson workers prepare to work on a water main pipe that burst due to extreme cold on February 17 in Richardson, Texas.
City of Richardson workers prepare to work on a water main pipe that burst due to extreme cold on February 17 in Richardson, Texas. LM Otero/AP

The current Arctic blast and series of winter storms are likely to cost multiple billion dollars in damages and will require a “prolonged period of damage assessment to property and agriculture across several states,” according to Steve Bowen, head of Catastrophe Insight at Aon.  

“The impact the winter weather is having on the infrastructure grid and business interruption in the state of Texas is comparable to what has been seen historically to hurricane landfalls in the state,” according to Bowen.

He warns that there are still significant impacts yet to come, “as temperatures start to warm in Texas, it is expected that we will see more instances of pipes bursting…we aren’t quite at the point yet to be talking about damage in the past tense.”

The last US winter storm to cause multiple billion dollars in damages came from a series of nor’easters impacting the East Coast in March 2018, with $2.3 billion in economic loss.

This week’s winter weather could top the $3.3 billion economic loss from the February 2015 cold wave and winter storm that left Boston under feet of snow and clogged Northeast transportation corridors. 

2:51 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House pushes back on claims that renewable energy sources are behind Texas blackouts

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Customers use the light from a cell phone to look in the meat section of a grocery store on February 16 in Dallas, Texas.
Customers use the light from a cell phone to look in the meat section of a grocery store on February 16 in Dallas, Texas. LM Otero/AP

Later during Wednesday’s briefing, when asked about Texas’ weather, White House press secretary Jen Psaki underscored how resilient infrastructure will be necessary to deal with climate change and create new jobs. She also pushed back on suggestions that renewable energy resources were to blame for the blackouts.

“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying union jobs, creating a clean energy economy and meeting the President's goal of reaching a net zero emissions future by 2050,” Psaki said.

Psaki also pushed back on “some inaccurate accusations out there” about “renewables” – namely, frozen wind turbines – being the main reason for Texas power outages.

“Actually, numerous reports of actually showing the contrary, that it was failures in coal and natural gas that contributed to the state's power shortages. And officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's power grid, have gone so far as to say that failures in wind and solar were the least significant factors in the blackouts,” she said.

2:23 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

The "potential is increasing for significant icing" in the mid-Atlantic, National Weather Service warns

The National Weather Service warned that "potential is increasing for significant icing" in parts of the Mid-Atlantic as a winter storm that hammered the Southeast moves north.

There's a probability for more than 0.10 inches of ice now through Friday in some parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and other states in the region.

The National Weather Service tweeted a map of the probable icing in response to a tweet from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management urging residents to prepare for the ice storm.

1:52 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

This family in Euless, Texas, has been without power for 72 hours. Here's how they are staying warm.

From CNN's Paul Murphy

Timothy Wilsey, his wife Nicole and his 7-year-old son have been without power for 72 hours, and they have been forced to use their cars for warmth and to charge battery packs and phones, “their only lines of communication.”

The Euless, Texas, family said their apartment is currently only heated by candles.

“We are keeping busy by going old school and reading books and playing board games,” he told CNN by text message from Euless, a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Timothy says they’re only using their phones to quickly look at the news, so they can stay updated on the power outage situation, and to look for restaurants that may be open and serving food.  

“We are mostly laying under covers in bed,” Timothy said. “The only time we leave the bed is to go to the car to warm up or charge the phones and battery packs.”

They put the food they could save from their freezer on their patio so it would stay warmer, but have no other way to cook food. The food they do have is largely limited to beef sticks, beef jerky, chips and some cookies; as for things to drink, they have bottled water and some bottled tea, but that is it.

“Other they [sic] that we are hoping the restaurants are open and serving hot food,” he said. “Sorry, hard to type while your hands are cold.”

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