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Power outages in the US leave 4m without power during harsh winter blast

Power outages in Texas and parts of the central United States extended into a second day as an explosion in the Arctic disrupted electricity supply and demand hit record levels, leaving more than 4 million people facing freezing temperatures without heat or electricity.

The Texas Electric Reliability Council, the operator of the state grid, said more energy production was taken offline overnight Tuesday, causing severe power restrictions. Ercot said on Tuesday he hoped warmer daytime temperatures would allow some generators to return to service and increase renewable energy production, which would alleviate blackouts.

“The number of controlled breakdowns that we have to do remains high. We are optimistic that we will be able to reduce this number throughout the day, ”said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at Ercot.

The Southwest Power Pool, an electricity market that stretches from North Dakota to Oklahoma, said continued power outages in the area would continue for a second day after declaring an emergency alert on Monday. .

About 4.3 million people were left without power across the region, including 4.16 million in energy-rich Texas alone on Tuesday morning, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks power outages across the country. .

Amid an angry backlash from Texans, state Republican Governor Greg Abbott called on the state legislature to investigate and reform Ercot. “The Texas Electrical Reliability Council has been anything but reliable for the past 48 hours,” Abbott said.

While the Texas power grid has proven largely capable of handling spikes in demand during the state’s sweltering summers, the power supply system has been crippled by some of the colder weather as the State has known for decades.

About 34 GW of generating capacity was taken off the grid as freezing temperatures disrupted natural gas supplies and caused some wind turbines to freeze. These outages came just as Ercot predicted that demand for electricity would hit winter records well above 70 GW.

Wholesale electricity prices have hovered around Ercot’s price cap of $ 9,000 per megawatt hour for days due to supply shortages, well above typical prices of around $ 25 / MWh. This has the potential to put enormous pressure on energy suppliers who are forced to buy at astronomical prices.

Natural gas supplies, which are used to power and heat homes and businesses, have been severely disrupted. According to Wood Mackenzie, a research company, the “freezing” of wells and pipelines in Texas and Oklahoma has cut 4.4 billion cubic feet per day of gas production, or more than 10% of the gas supply. the region.

US natural gas prices jumped about 10 percent early in Tuesday to around $ 3.15 per million U.K. thermal units, its highest level since October.

Frigid temperatures and prolonged blackouts have also disrupted the state’s oil industry, the country’s largest.

Texas Producers Permian oil field, one of the most prolific countries in the world, faces days of disruption as pipelines and other equipment freeze and ice storms delay repairs.

Some estimates point to crude production disruptions of more than 1 million barrels per day, or nearly 10 percent of total United States production. US oil prices have held steady at around $ 60 a barrel.

A number of refineries around the Texas Gulf Coast, a vital hub for the global fuel trade, have also been forced to shut down or scale back operations, disrupting more than 3 mb / d of crude processing capacity. . If those facilities are forced to remain closed, it could push up fuel prices, analysts said.

The power crisis and freezing temperatures have also forced automakers to halt part of production. Ford said it has idled five of its factories due to weather conditions, including in Kansas City, where it has been warned that natural gas supplies may be limited. Nissan said it has suspended production at all of its US factories due to weather conditions.

The prolonged power outages sparked outrage among Texans who were forced to wait for freezing temperatures without heat or electricity. They also sparked recriminations between local and state officials.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that “the city does not control the Texas Power Grid. We do not oversee Ercot who manages and serves as the traffic cop for the power grid. It is the governor and state of Texas. “

“I know people are angry and frustrated,” Turner added. “So I am.”

Additional reporting by Claire Bushey

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