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Energy Conservation Urged To Prevent Rolling Outages

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High-voltage power lines carry electricity. (credit: David Silverman/Getty Images)

High-voltage power lines carry electricity. (credit: David Silverman/Getty Images)

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Tens of thousands of people across North Texas lost electricity on Wednesday, according to local energy provider Oncor, in a rolling outage process that included nearly every part of the state. Many people were caught off-guard by the blackouts, which came as temperatures remained in the teens for the second day in a row.

But those rolling outages may not be over just yet, as temperatures continue to be in the teens and low 20s for a third day, and as many visitors arrive in town for Sunday’s Super Bowl in Arlington.

Dottie Roark with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released a statement Wednesday that said the agency “instructed utilities to begin rotating outages to compensate for a generation shortage due to numerous plant trips that occurred because of extreme weather.” This process, called ‘load-shedding’ began statewide at about 6:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Terry Hadley with the Texas Public Utility Commission elaborated on the situation later Wednesday, saying that millions of Texans would be affected after two major electric generating plants shut down because of burst water pipes. That cut the amount of power in the system by 10 percent, which prompted ERCOT to begin the rolling outages.

Roark initially said that the outages were to last somewhere between 10 and 45 minutes, and that “critical need customers such as hospitals and nursing homes” would not be impacted. But as the hours went on, CBS 11 News heard from viewers who had been without power for several hours, and hospitals that lost their power momentarily before back-up generators kicked in.

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Hadley said that state officials understand that “this is a major inconvenience for a lot of people.” The rolling outages were designed to minimize that inconvenience, he said. The situation became so dire that Texas called on bordering Mexico to transmit extra megawatts of electricity.

At least one North Texas location did not have to worry about losing power. According to Oncor, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington was exempt from the ‘load-shedding’ process. Other facilities, such as team hotels, were not included in this exemption. That is because the stadium falls on multiple, overlapping grids, and shutting off its power would present a security issue.

By Wednesday afternoon, ERCOT announced that the rolling outages were “no longer needed,” but they could return again during peak-demand times – especially Thursday morning when temperatures will be at the lowest. The state’s power grid hit an all-time winter peak demand on Wednesday night. The situation is improving, ERCOT officials said, but conservation is key.

Residents across North Texas and the entire state are advised to limit their electricity use by turning off all lights or appliances that are not in-use, and turning off any electronic devices that are not necessary. Any activities that involve high amounts of energy – running a washing machine or dishwasher – should be held until later in the day. The hours between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. are the most crucial.

Meanwhile, Atmos Energy, the main provider of natural gas in North Texas, posted a statement online that asked customers to set thermostats to 65 degrees and limit hot water use early in the morning.

Anyone still without power, according to ERCOT officials, has lost electricity due to winter storm conditions and not the ‘load-shedding’ process. Local Oncor customers are advised to report any extended blackouts to their customer service department at 888-313-4747 or visit their website.

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