Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 17 Texas counties hit hardest by the latest winter storm in Texas on Thursday.
Abbott said the grid was performing reliably under the icy conditions, though about 70,000 Texans were without power due to localized outages caused in part by accumulated ice weighing down power lines and trees, as well as some heavy winds knocking down those lines.
“We are dealing with one of the most significant icing events that we’ve had in the state of Texas in at least several decades,” Abbott said.
The declaration includes Bosque, Dallas, Delta, Denton, Ellis, Fannin, Grayson, Hopkins, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Lamar, Navarro, Rains, Red River, Rockwall, and Williamson counties. It allows for the lifting of certain regulations to assist in recovery with the governor’s written approval.
It could also be updated to include additional counties in the event the storm worsens, Abbott said.
Abbott signed the declaration during a press conference with other statewide officials Thursday, where he also announced a measure authorizing the Texas Department of Public Safety to lift other regulations in order to allow trucks to get into the state more easily.
More than 10,000 line workers were assisting local power providers across Texas with getting the lines back up and running, and almost 2,000 more are coming in from outside the state, Abbott said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas expected about 10,000 megawatts of extra power capacity at peak demand — enough to supply about 2 million homes, Abbott said. There were about 20,000 megawatts of extra supply as of late Thursday morning.
The governor was joined by top officials from the Public Utility Commission, the Railroad Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and other statewide departments, all of whom stressed the state is better positioned to handle a winter storm after last year's freeze.
The state has 15% more generation capacity and more reserve power available than last year, and 99% of generators passed recent inspections, Abbott said. This year, generators were required to perform maintenance before the winter season, and there are also "several days” of natural gas storage that can be used to supplement any shortages, he added. More than 2,900 natural gas facilities are designated as critical infrastructure, up from less than 100 facilities last year.
Generators and power lines have been weatherized to meet federal standards, according to PUC Chairman Peter Lake.
"The grid remains strong, reliable, and it is performing well in this winter weather event," Lake said.
Despite that assurance, new state rules do not have to set specific weatherization standards for natural gas supply until mid-2022.
Abbott, who is up for reelection this year, has been telling Texans for months that the state's power grid would not crash again as it did during a deadly winter storm last year. That grid failure caused nearly 70% of all Texans to lose power, leading to hundreds of deaths across the state.
That kind of massive failure was not expected during this storm, a point Abbott attempted to drive home on Thursday.
“The Texas electric grid is the most reliable and resilient it's ever been,” Abbott said.