Blackouts Cascade Beyond Texas in deepening crisis

“In our history as a network operator, this is an unprecedented event,” Southwest Power Pool said in a statement Monday.

The brutal cold that hits Texas – the capital of the American energy industry and home to some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies – is symbolic of a world facing more unpredictable weather due to the growing impact of climate change. The outcomes also underscore the growing vulnerability of the grid as the globe moves away from fossil fuels to an electrified system that is increasingly dependent on renewable energy.

By mid-afternoon, 3.8 million customers were without power across Texas, according to Poweroutage.us, which collects power outages from supply sites. More than 225,000 others were down in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and elsewhere.

In Mexico, at least 400,000 homes, businesses and other users lost power as the cold in Texas triggered a shortage of natural gas and forced power plants offline. About 60% of those affected had their power restored by noon, according to network operator Cenace.

In Dallas, temperatures will rise from a low of 2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17 degrees Celsius) late Monday to high of 29 before Wednesday during falling snow and ice, the National Weather Service said. By the end of Thursday, readings are dropping back into teens.

Such weather conditions are very rare in much of Texas and they have unleashed chaos on Earth. In Houston, the state’s largest city, roads are icy over and there are long queues to refill household propane containers. Firewood is sold out.

In addition to the human impact, it is the cold that is destroying the energy industry itself. Oil production in the Perm Basin has fallen by 1 million barrels a day, helping US crude prices trade above $ 60 a barrel for the first time in more than a year. The region’s industrial plant is built to withstand severe summers rather than Arctic weather, and the largest U.S. oil refinery went offline Monday, reducing supplies of gasoline and other fuels.

Large shards in Dallas, Houston and other cities have been thrown into the dark as extreme cold and rising demand for heat push generators to the brink. The outages started as controlled, rolling power outages, but are cascaded into prolonged power outages in some areas.

“We expect that we will have to continue these controlled outages for the rest of today and maybe all day tomorrow,” Dan Woodfin, senior director of the state’s Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, said during a briefing Monday.

In the last six months, extreme temperatures have led to power outages in the two most populous U.S. states. In August, network operators in California turned off the power as record heat pushed demand beyond capacity, and now Texas’ record cold has led to the same result.

The extreme cold seems to have surprised Texas’ highly decentralized electricity market. Power plants with a total capacity of more than 34 gigawatts were forced offline overnight, including nuclear reactors, coal and gas generators and wind farms, Woodfin said. It is not clear why, he added.

Wind power in particular seems to have been a major victim of weather conditions with turbine blades rendered unusable due to ice, a phenomenon that reduces efficiency and can ultimately prevent them from turning. Wind generation is more than halved to 4.2 gigawatts.

Power continues to be cut across the state through Monday and potentially until Tuesday morning, until enough generators come back online, Woodfin said.

“Every network operator and every power company is struggling to restore power right now,” said Bill Magness, chairman of the state-owned Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

These are the first rolling blackouts caused by cold weather since 2011 in Texas. Peaks in electricity demand usually occur in the summer in Texas, when the use of air conditioners increases. A loss of frequency on the grid has caused the 30 gigawatt generation to stop. Many stations will have been under scheduled maintenance, leaving the network more exposed under unusually large peaks in demand.

Parts of Texas were colder than Alaska, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature at 5 in Houston was 18 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 Celsius) equivalent to the reading in Anchorage. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cool temperatures and a hurricane of storms in the United States follow other instances of extreme winter weather this year that have ravaged ports and upward energy markets in Asia and Europe. Texas, not used to the full rage of winter, gets a great taste. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency and mobilized federal aid to help local efforts.

The average spot price for power across the Texas grid hit the state’s $ 9,000 per share. Megawatt-hour price cap shortly after noon. 9.30 local time. LNG exports from the United States also plummeted to freeze-closed ports and wells, and oil production also took a hit, with oil production in Perm declining by as much as a million barrels a day. West Texas Intermediate futures rose as much as 2.5%, over $ 60 per share. Barrel for the first time in more than a year.

The cut to crude supply threatens to release a rush for everything from propane to heating oil, fuels used in mobile heating units.

Odessa in West Texas, one of the largest cities in the Permian Basin, still has power, but San Antonio has lost power with rolling power outages lasting 10-15 minutes, according to sources at the site.

Houston can pick up as much as 5 inches of snow overnight along with ice and sleet, the National Weather Service said. It will be hit by another storm bringing ice and freezing rain on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a cold week,” said David Roth, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. “The southern plains are in a cold pattern and it will take a while for them to break out of it.”

(Updates outcome figures in the first, fifth sections)

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