Outage FAQs: Why they’re not being distributed equally

Some Denton County residents — and people all over Texas — have been without power since early Monday morning. Others have had their power turned on and off constantly since then. And others have had little to no service interruptions.

And everyone wants to know, why? Why aren’t the outages being distributed more equally?

ERCOT and the power utilities have said they have low power generation, due to the winter weather, on top of unprecedented demand, due to the record cold temperatures. The demand has simply been higher than the supply, so ERCOT needs to offload the overwhelmed power grid with controlled, or rolling, outages. Ideally, rolling outages are intended to roll throughout the affected area, distributing the outages relatively evenly among residential and commercial areas so that no one is without power for a long time.

But that’s not what’s happening, and it’s caused dangerous conditions for millions of people. In-house temperatures have plunged below the freezing point, hotels are booked up, the roads are treacherous and many people are stuck in their freezing homes. Even those that have their power turned on and off often, it doesn’t stay on long enough to warm their homes back up to normal temperatures.

These conditions are expected to continue for the next few days. ERCOT announced Wednesday that it restored about 3,500 MW of load (about 700,000 households) overnight, but it can no longer import about 600 MW due to weather in the midwest. It is still instructing local utilities to shed 14,000 MW of load, about 2.8 million households. About 46,000 MW of generation has been forced off the system, including 28,000 MW of thermal and 18,000 MW of wind and solar power.

Local electricity provider Oncor has answered some FAQs to help residents understand why some people have had such different utility experiences than others across town or even across the street. See the answers from Oncor below:

Why is my power out?

The controlled outages were intended to roll throughout the service territory, but the high amount of load dropped from the grid prevented us and other utilities from performing regular rotations, leading to extended periods without power for many of our customers. We continue to strive toward providing any temporary relief that we can for those who have been without power the longest as soon as enough generation is available.

How does Oncor decide who is affected by controlled or rotating outages?

The location of controlled, or rotating, outages depends on a variety of load factors, including the amount ERCOT has directed us to drop and the amount available to be safely disconnected. These types of outages primarily occur in residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. We also strive to avoid dropping hospitals and other critical loads and infrastructure.

Typically, Oncor’s emergency operation plans spread these outages across the service territory on a rotating basis. Due to this unique widespread power emergency however, ERCOT has directed Oncor to drop a record amount of load over a much longer period of time. Therefore, we have had to drop all available, non-critical load and regular rotations have often been prevented. These outages are absolutely critical for ensuring the integrity of the grid and preventing cascading impacts such as a blackout. We will continue to rotate outages where possible and aim to provide any temporary relief that we can for those who have been without power the longest as soon as enough generation is available.

Q: Why are some homes out for hours and others not at all?

Controlled outages can affect customers differently based on the load reduction required by ERCOT. For example, customers near critical facilities, or those in limited areas where rolling outages cannot take place to maintain grid stability, may not experience outages, while those farther from these facilities or areas may experience multiple outages for longer periods of time.

Additionally, in case there are instances of substantial generation drop, safeguards are built into our system that drop customer loads automatically to prevent cascading widespread outages, or ultimately a blackout. These are designed to be short term drops that are reset quicker than controlled outages to prepare for the next response opportunity. As these limited areas must be energized in order to provide this grid protection, it could affect you but not your neighbor. Keeping these limited areas energized also helps stabilize the system, so when controlled outages are done, we can more easily get everything reconnected and turned back on. These are diverse geographical areas across the grid, based solely on the mathematic and engineering needs of the electric system.

Lastly, while these controlled outages were intended to roll throughout the service territory, the high amount of load dropped from the grid prevented us and other utilities from performing regular rotations, leading to extended periods without power for many of our customers. We continue to strive toward providing any temporary relief that we can for those who have been without power the longest as soon as enough generation is available. Outages due to storm damage also affect different customers in different ways. A downed power line might affect your home but again, not your neighbor.

When will my power be restored?

For controlled outages: ERCOT has been unable to predict when more generation will be available and when there will be enough electric supply to meet customer demand. We are doing all we can to ensure Oncor will be prepared to safely deliver electricity to our customers as soon as ERCOT allows.

For winter storm damage: Our crews and out of state mutual assistance contractors are now actively engaged in restoration efforts. Continued winter impacts such as extreme cold, treacherous road conditions and ice buildup may impact progress. However, these personnel are well experienced in working in extreme weather conditions and will be working around the clock to assess damages, clear debris and repair damaged equipment. Even then, power from ERCOT must be available for us to reenergize your home or business.

The bottom line: Because ERCOT cannot yet tell us when power will be available, we continue asking all Oncor customers to be prepared to be without power for an extended period of time.

When will power generation plants come back on-line?

Oncor does not own or operate generation facilities. The current cold weather has caused many of these generators to shut down and ERCOT has not told us when to expect them back on-line. We continue to strive toward providing any temporary relief that we can for those who have been without power the longest as soon as enough generation is available.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith is the Digital Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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