Texas was "seconds and minutes" away from an even greater catastrophe when the decision was made to bring in what were supposed to be rolling blackouts, according to officials who operate the only standalone power grid in the lower 48. Officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Thursday that when a winter storm took more than half of its winter generating capacity offline early Monday just as demand was surging, operators had to act fast to prevent a worst-case scenario—equipment catching fire and substations blowing—that could have left many Texans without power for months, the Texas Tribune reports. ERCOT chief Bill Magness said that if operators hadn't followed emergency procedures, the grid would have been overwhelmed, causing infrastructure damage that would have led to an "indeterminately long" crisis.
"The operators who took those actions to prevent a catastrophic blackout and much worse damage to our system, that was, I would say, the most difficult decision that had to be made throughout this whole event," Magness said. He said a blackout where "we have to start the grid from scratch and power could be out for an indeterminate amount of time" is the "disaster scenario that’s our central job to avoid," per BuzzFeed. So much power generation was knocked offline that the blackouts lasted far longer than expected. By Thursday, some 325,000 homes and businesses were without power, down from 3 million a day earlier, the AP reports. Senior ERCOT director Dan Woodfin, when asked how regulators could stop this from happening again, said one of the biggest problems was natural gas wellheads freezing up. (The cold weather has also caused a water crisis.)