City Hall

As Dallas Prepares for Crowded Shelters and Frigid Temps, ERCOT Says the Grid is Ready

It might not snow this week like it did in February 2021 (pictured), but ERCOT says it is ready for below-freezing temperatures.
It might not snow this week like it did in February 2021 (pictured), but ERCOT says it is ready for below-freezing temperatures. Creative Commons/DJJudah
With below-freezing temperatures approaching later this week just in time for Christmas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has issued a press release to let Texans know that it is “closely monitoring the weather situation.” It’s certainly good to know that the ERCOT is paying close attention to the upcoming weather conditions as opposed to simply paying less-than-close attention to just how cold the temperatures throughout North Texas will be starting on Thursday.

“Over the past 18 months,” the release reads, “ERCOT has worked closely with the Public Utility Commission and elected officials to implement reforms and increase grid reliability, including weatherization, bringing more generation online sooner if needed, and purchasing more reserve power. As a result, the reliability and resiliency of the grid has been strengthened significantly.”

The 18-month timeframe ERCOT refers to takes us back to the historically destructive and deadly winter storm Uri. Almost a week’s worth of snow and ice with some sub-zero temperatures mixed in produced a power crisis that resulted in hundreds of deaths and crippled thousands of homes and businesses to the tune of billions of dollars in damages.

It was also the time many Texans first learned what ERCOT was. As the agency overseeing the flow of electricity from the state’s power grid to residents, ERCOT has become a focal point when temperatures either surge in the summer or plunge in the winter.

There are signs to suggest that improvements have been made, but a recent report also indicates that the state is still vulnerable under extreme conditions to power loss and rolling blackouts. Still, in its statement, ERCOT listed improvements it says “make the grid more reliable.”

The agency noted enhanced weatherization of electric generation units and transmission facilities, additional fuel supplies for generators should natural gas become scarce, generators that power up quickly during fluctuating conditions and improved communications between ERCOT and the Texas Department of Emergency Management as chief among the improvements that have been made.

There are signs to suggest that improvements have been made, but a recent report also indicates that the state is still vulnerable under extreme conditions to power loss and rolling blackouts.

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On the surface, these are vital advancements, and should North Texas make it through the freezing conditions of the next week without power losses, it’ll be fair to consider these recent changes effective.

On the local level, Dallas is acting quickly to activate new plans for the homeless during the upcoming freeze. Last week, City Council approved a contract to have Austin Street Center in Dallas serve as the city’s inclement weather shelter coordinator. The plan, which calls for the city to lease 20,000 square feet at the center for storage, training and sheltering operations, was set to begin in January 2023, but the council moved to put it into effect immediately due to the holiday weekend forecast.

The city’s Office of Homeless Solutions can activate the temporary inclement weather shelter (TIWS) at Austin Street Center’s facility when temperatures dip below freezing for more than three hours between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. TIWS can also be activated in extreme summer heat conditions. Warren United Methodist Church near Fair Park, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library downtown can also be used as temporary shelters under the TIWS plan.

According to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ The State of Homelessness in 2022 account, there are more than 4,000 homeless people in Dallas and Collin counties at any given time. Shelters such as Austin Street Center are busiest when temperatures are coldest. Austin Street Center has 360 beds available, and it partners with other private organizations to provide shelter for additional persons in need. The center’s Director of Advancement Communications, Teresa Thomas, thinks her facility’s beds will be pretty full this weekend.

“The length of time we’re expecting the weather to be bad means there’ll be a greater need,” she says. “If it were going to be just a single night, I don’t know that we would be full, but over the course of multiple nights, I can see how we will be full or very close to full.”

With more public scrutiny than ever before, ERCOT seems to at least acknowledge its awareness that taxpayers are paying close attention and will know where to direct their icy anger should things not go as smoothly as ERCOT suggests they will.

“Providing Texans with a reliable electric grid is our highest priority. As we monitor weather conditions, we want to assure Texans that the grid is resilient and reliable,” said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT President and CEO in the press release. “We will keep the public informed as weather conditions change throughout the coming week.”
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Kelly Dearmore

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