About Us

Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

Power could get cut to circuits that include hospitals as a ‘last resort,’ Austin Energy warns

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Austin Energy could decide to shut off electricity to circuits that include critical infrastructure – such as fire stations, hospitals and 911 operations – to prevent the state’s power grid from collapsing, the municipal utility warned Tuesday.

“Only as an absolute last resort. I cannot guarantee that we will not get to that stage,” Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent said during a news conference. “I am hoping that won’t happen, but I don’t want to create a false sense of security.”

As of Tuesday evening, about 173,000 Austin Energy customers – roughly one-third of the utility’s consumers – were without power. And it could be out into Wednesday, Austin Energy said, with no clear answer from the state grid regulator on when power can be restored.

“It makes it difficult to give you a certain answer,” Bill Magness, Electric Reliability Council of Texas president and CEO, said during a virtual news conference Tuesday. “We’re relying on the ability to get that supply and demand in balance.”

A spokesperson for Austin Energy confirmed that the utility was able to restore power to some households Tuesday, but the number was very small compared to total outages.

“Until this weather event clears and more generating units across the state are able to come online, there will not be enough capacity to meet all energy customers’ demands,” Sargent said.

She said the utility has asked its largest customers to take additional steps to conserve power, and has cut electricity to those that have backup generators.

Should demand bypass the state’s current electric capacity, the entire system could break down.

“If the grid were to collapse, if the demand would continue to go up, the generating capacity or supply continue to come down, there would be a point when the whole system would go black,” Sargent said. “That would take not just days to restore power, but weeks and even longer for some customers throughout the ERCOT footprint.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top