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Power back on for more than 90% of Austin; focus shifts to water, food access

Ryan Autullo, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in Weather News

More than 90% of Austin Energy customers had power as of Thursday afternoon, a warming development in the city's continued fight against the winter storm – a fight that now shifts to getting water and food to people without access to necessities.

A total of 40,969 Austin Energy customers were still without power as of 2 p.m. Thursday, down from 220,000 earlier in the week – the peak when less than 60% of the city had power.

"Our crews, our teams, will not stop until every customer has power," Austin Energy general manager Jacqueline Sargent said Thursday.

Sargent said she could not say when power will be back for everyone. "I wish that bringing everyone back online was as easy as flipping a switch or pushing a button, but it's not," she said.

The progress toward restoring electricity began overnight when the state's grid – operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas – allowed for transmission owners like Austin Energy to bring back any load they had previously shed. Austin had shut down every circuit available earlier in the week except for those that were powering critical infrastructure like hospitals and emergency response stations.

The directive to shed power was sent throughout the state by ERCOT, due to 185 or more power plants – using everything from gas to wind power – faltering or failing completely amid freezing temperatures.

"We’re to the point in the load restoration where we are allowing transmission owners to bring back any load they can related to this load shed event,” said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's senior director of system operations.

There was, however, one caveat. "Some level" of rotating outages may be required over the next few days to keep the grid stable, Woodfin said.

There were 417,000 outages statewide as of Thursday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages in the country.

 

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, roughly 81,000 Austin Energy customers were without power. Seven hours later, that number had been cut by half.

It's unclear when all customers will have energy and how many of them were impacted not only by ERCOT's forced blackout but also because of ice storm damage to power lines.

The areas with the highest number of active outages – with more than 4,000 apiece – were the 78747 ZIP code in Southeast Austin and the 78746 ZIP code in West Lake Hills.

Austin Energy said it prioritized restoring power to customers in areas that had been without it the longest. A Twitter user from the Jollyville area in Northwest Austin said he had been without power for almost 80 hours before it was restored Thursday morning.

Austin Energy is the leading electrical utility in the city, serving more than 512,000 customers not including their dependents and pets.

Crews responding to outages did so under hostile conditions, getting harassed and hit with snow balls by unhappy customers.

"That's not who we are," Mayor Steve Adler said Wednesday.

(c)2021 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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