AUSTIN, Texas — Texans shivered under blankets as their electricity flickered off and temperatures inside their homes plummeted. Some awoke on Tuesday to find icicles had formed from dripping kitchen faucets. And in a Houston suburb, a woman and her three grandchildren who had been relying on a fireplace for heat were killed after the authorities said a blaze engulfed their home.
As a winter storm forced the state’s power grid to the brink of collapse, millions of residents were submerged this week into darkness, bitter cold and a sense of indignation over being stuck in uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions. The strain revealed the vulnerabilities of a distressed system and set off a political fight as lawmakers called for hearings and an inquiry into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator managing the flow of electricity to more than 26 million customers.
The storm, among the worst in a generation in Texas, led to the state’s grid becoming overwhelmed as supply withered against a soaring demand. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed the need for electricity beyond the worst-case scenarios planned for by grid operators. At the same time, many of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, and some plants appeared to suffer fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked nationwide.
“No one’s model of the power system envisioned that all 254 Texas counties would come under a winter storm warning at the same time,” said Joshua Rhodes, an expert on the state’s electric grid at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s putting major strain on both the electricity grid and the gas grid that feeds both electricity and heat.”
Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council, said on Tuesday that the agency was “trying to get people’s power back on as quickly as possible,” while also balancing the need to “safely manage the balance of supply and demand on the grid” to avoid larger collapses in the power system.
Editor’s Note: Click here to read the full New York Times story by reporters David Montgomery, Rick Rojsa, Ivan Penn, and James Dobbins.