Texas power outagesAlmost 70% of ERCOT customers lost power during winter storm, study finds

By Neelam Bohra

Published 29 March 2021

Texans in ERCOT’s service area who lost electricity were without power for an average of 42 hours, according to the study. They had been told to prepare for short-term, rolling outages.

Last month’s disastrous and deadly winter storm impacted most Texans served by the state’s main power grid, with almost 70% of those people losing power in subfreezing temperatures and almost half experiencing a water outage, according to a new report from the University of Houston.

And although Texans were told to prepare for short-term, rolling power outages ahead of the storm, those who lost electricity ended up going an average of 42 hours without it, the survey found.

As the updated death toll from the storm reached 111 deaths last week, the severity of its full force has continued to come into focus. The damage the storm wrecked could make it the costliest disaster in Texas history.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas manages the state’s main power grid, which represents 90% of Texas’ electric load and serves more than 26 million customers, according to the agency.

More than half of the Texans in the ERCOT service area had difficulty obtaining bottled water and lost internet service during the storm that blanketed much of the state in snow and ice. Three-fourths of people had difficulty obtaining food or groceries, according to the study.

Lucero Marquez, 23, lives in north Austin and although she lost running water for about 96 hours, she said she felt lucky she retained power and could venture to the local convenience store for bottled water.

“We have to go through these extra steps to flush our toilet and wash our dishes, but honestly, overall, we are thankful that we’ve got this scenario,” Marquez told The Texas Tribune during the week of the storm. “We’re not cold and shivering like many millions of others are.”

The storm also endangered Texans in the ERCOT service area indirectly as they struggled to stay warm. Despite the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, a quarter of those who lost power from the main grid used their gas ovens or stove cooktops to stay warm, and 8% turned on a grill or smoker indoors.

Nine percent of those who left their homes while trying to escape the cold stayed in their cars.

“This was as catastrophic as we all believed it to be,” said Kirk Watson, founding dean for UH’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, which conducted the online survey.