AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott vowed Thursday to return Texans to a sense of normalcy and promised to get answers on what led to massive power system failures that left millions without power.
“Everyone knows how challenging the past few days have been for our fellow Texans,” Abbott said. “I want everyone to know that all of us and the state of Texas believe it is completely unacceptable you had to endure even one minute of the challenge you faced.”
Since Wednesday, Abbott said 2 million people have had power restored, leaving 325,000 people in the state still without power as of Thursday afternoon. He said most of those remaining issues are because of issues caused by the storm, and not because of any generation issues stemming from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ grid management.
“We hope and anticipate no location will be without power tonight,” Abbott said, adding “every available repair truck has been dispatched” to help fix power issues caused by the ice storm.
Abbott gave an update on the state’s response to power outages and other urgent needs Thursday, as the final round of winter weather moves through Austin. He said as far as power and water issues go, he is working on waivers and executive orders to help, and has met with organizations to brainstorm ideas and action plans to get more power and water.
Earlier Thursday, ERCOT provided an update saying it has stopped mandating controlled outages and that local utility companies can work to bring power back online. ERCOT, Gov. Abbott and the Public Utility Commission of Texas have come under fire from lawmakers and citizens for a lack of preparedness. ERCOT said during its press conference it had been within minutes of a catastrophic blackout event when its operators started reducing the load on the system that led to outages.
Abbott excoriated ERCOT during Thursday’s press conference, saying the organization’s CEO had assured him five days before the storm hit that it was ready for the cold temperatures coming toward Texas, and that it had issued a notice to power generators to winterize. Abbott also said ERCOT’s annual winter assessment assured the public it was prepared to meet peak demand.
“ERCOT failed on each of these measure that they said they had undertaken,” Abbott said. Later, he said he is “taking responsibility for the status of ERCOT” and working to address the issues that arose this week.
Abbott had already called for an investigation and reforms for ERCOT earlier this week, adding it as an emergency item for the Texas legislature to tackle this session. He said Thursday that part of his charge is to restructure how ERCOT works, including its board membership. A KXAN investigation found ERCOT recently elected a new board, and five of its members do not live in Texas.
Abbott said in addition to that emergency item for the legislature, he would add other items through executive order, asking lawmakers to mandate winterization of generators and the power system and whatever funding is needed to make sure it happens. He said he’s already spoken with Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, House Speaker Dade Phelan and chairs of the appropriate commitees.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, announced Thursday that the Committee on Senate Jurisprudence she chairs will hold a hearing on ERCOT and the PUC’s legal responsibility and whether additional safeguards could have prevented what happened this week.
“What happened this week to our fellow Texans is unacceptable and cannot be replicated again,” Abbott said.
Addressing water outage issues
Of the more than 7,000 water systems across Texas, 797 are reporting some kind of issue due to a lack of power or frozen and broken pipes. A total of 725 have issued boil water notices, affecting 13 million Texans, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The TCEQ is systematically reaching out to water providers and working to identify and help them fix problems.
It is also gearing up for an influx of testing by making sure in-state and out-of-state mobile laboratories are prepared to conduct the water quality tests needed to lift boil water notices.
Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said Texas is working with FEMA, local and private partners to provide emergency drinking water to every county in Texas. He’s also working with the federal government and even other states like Florida and California to get help for critical places with industrial water issues, such as hospitals.
Abbott said he is making a formal request to President Joe Biden to get a major disaster declaration designation for Texas, which will allow people to apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with repairs or broken pipes.
Warming centers and food
So far there are a total of 331 warming centers for people across the state, with more being added. People can look up warming centers near them using a map from the Texas Department of Emergency Management. Abbott said the National Guard will be used to set up and get people to warming centers across the state.
The White House said earlier this week it was working to get generators and blankets to Texas, and Kidd said Texas would work with groups that receive them to make sure buildings are set up to be able to use them.
As roads clear up, so will the food supply chain, Abbott said, which means grocery stores and restaurants can restock. In addition to doling out water, Kidd said Texas will be distributing Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs, to those who need them.
“I ask, though, that we don’t hoard food,” Kidd said. “We take what we need and get through this together.”
Texans looking to help their neighbors during this time can go to FeedingTexas.org to help with food collection and distribution.