Power lines in Carlsbad
Power lines in Carlsbad. REUTERS/Mike Blake

California came in for national criticism last summer when a record heat wave forced rolling blackouts, but the current winter outages in Texas are proving much, much worse.

The Texas crisis began early Monday when a number of power plants shut down in rapid succession amid frigid cold, prompting the state’s grid operator to call for rolling blackouts and then quickly institute widespread outages.

According to media reports, as many as 4.4 million customers remained without power on Tuesday afternoon with no expectation of when it would be restored.

“Controlled outages will continue through today and into early tomorrow, possibly all of tomorrow,” said Dan Woodfin, director of systems operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid.

Conservative Texas politicians immediately blamed wind energy, but it turns out the problem was primarily due to coal and natural gas plants shutting down.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for the leadership of the grid operator to resign and also deployed the Texas National Guard statewide to assist in the restoration of electricity.

Boomberg News reported that last summer’s rolling blackouts in California occurred because the grid was short about 1 to 2 gigawatts for two evenings, while Texas has been short about 15 to 25 gigawatts for two straight days. One utility analyst called the Texas outage “historic” in magnitude.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz criticized California last year for supposedly being “unable to perform even basic functions of civilization” during the rolling blackouts, but tweeted Tuesday night “a blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a midday news conference that 1.3 million people in his city remain without power. The city is looking for businesses that still have power to open their doors as warming centers.

“It’s critically, critically important to get the power restored as quickly as possible. It’s priority number one!” Turner said.

The brutal winter storm has killed at least 21 people in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Missouri and spun tornadoes throughout the Southeast. It is not expected to relent until the weekend.

Reuters contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.