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Power outages across Texas: Common questions answered

As the rotating and controlled outages continue, here's what you need to know.

Updated at 2:25 p.m. with new information from power officials.

Rolling power outages are in effect across the state of Texas as officials work to conserve as much electricity as possible during extreme cold and record demand on the grid. 

Officials are asking Texans to conserve as much electricity as they can safely and reliably over the coming days as record-low temperatures are expected to plunge the state further into a dangerous winter storm. 

Power demand is forecasted to become even greater through Tuesday. 

How long will the power outages last?

Rotating and controlled outages are underway and started at 1:25 a.m. Monday. Residents were initially told to expect to lose power for 15 to 45 minutes during the rotating outages, but Oncor is now asking people to be "prepared to be without power for an extended period of time." 

"The length of these controlled outages have been significantly extended due to current emergency grid conditions & severe cold weather," Oncor tweeted Monday afternoon. "These outages are taking place across the service territory & ERCOT has said they could be required through Tuesday."

ERCOT has said there’s no limit to how long any one outage could last. It could be many hours, and it’s up to each provider to figure out where and how long the rotations are.

Officials also explained that some areas near points of critical infrastructure like hospitals will likely not experience the same kind of outages as providers work to keep the power on for those specific areas. This in turn means that they will rely more heavily on other areas for the outages.

Oncor is advising Texans that they may also experience multiple outage rotations and that they are "necessary to maintain reliability of the system."  

"We recognize how unsettling these outages can be and strive to minimize impacts."

The energy provider is also responding to outages caused by the winter storm itself, but officials said due to the fast moving nature of these two power emergencies, they are unable to tell the difference between the controlled outages and winter storm outages on their Outage map.

Will the power outages happen again?

State electricity officials said rotating and controlled outages will continue through Tuesday as around 2 million people were without power Monday morning. The outages could be in place until the "weather emergency ends." ERCOT officials did not define what that would look like.

“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness.

Multiple electrical generating units began tripping offline quickly Sunday night, causing a collapse in electricity supply and prompting the outages. The units fell offline due to the cold weather, ERCOT officials said during the call.

Most of those that went offline were natural gas, coal or nuclear facilities that shut down. Combined, it in total took more than 30,000 megawatts from the grid. 

This is the longest period of time officials have had to run rotating outages in the state.

Below is a breakdown of how the agency determines when to go into rotating outages.

Conservation Warning

When the electric reserves drop below 3,000 megawatts, a conservation advisory is activated. That’s when ERCOT communicates to the public and to power generators what’s going on.

An advisory is issued but rotating outages are not yet needed.

EEA1

When the reserves drop below 2,300 megawatts, Emergency Energy Alert 1 is activated. That’s when ERCOT communicates to the public and to power generators that the situation is deteriorating.

At this time, ERCOT will import power from other states and from Mexico. This regularly happens during peak summer months and is not new. But right now, because prices are so cheap, and unrelated to the weather, ERCOT was already importing power from Mexico and other power grids.

Rotating outages do not happen during this stage.

EEA2

When the electric reserves drop to 1750 megawatts, other steps are taken to bring on additional capacity, but rotating outages are still not yet activated.

EEA3

When the reserves get to 1,000 megawatts and they are not expected to recover within 30 minutes, ERCOT will then ask electric suppliers like Oncor and Reliant to begin rotating outages to reduce load on the system. 

ERCOT said the location of outages would be determined by each provider like Oncor and Reliant. 

What should I do when I lose power?

If you lose power, here are a few steps you can take to stay warm:

  • Close any blinds/curtains or put blankets or towels up to cover windows and provide insulation
  • Close off rooms to avoid losing heat
  • Stuff towels in cracks under doors, esp. exterior ones
  • Wear layers of loose fitting, warm clothing, especially warm socks and gloves if you have them
  • Eat and drink food to provide energy to warm the body but avoid alcohol or caffeine
  • If you have candles, lighting them can help act as a heat source, especially in an enclosed space. But do not rely on them, and remember to practice good fire safety.

RELATED: How to stay warm in extreme cold if your power goes out

Do not:

  • Under no circumstances should you bring a generator inside. They should remain 30 feet away from your home
  • Don't use a stove or oven for heat, this can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning

RELATED: Map of power outages in Dallas-Fort Worth area

How can I conserve power? 

Experts explained that even taking a few small steps to reduce power consumption in your home can help your community, particularly for those who haven't lost power: 

  • Turn down your thermostat to 68 degrees
  • Keep lights off when not in a room
  • Unplug appliances not in use
  • Avoid using large appliances like washing machines, esp. during peak times
  • Close off heat escape routes like drafty doors or fireplace dampers (when not in use)
  • Set your ceiling fan to rotate clockwise to force warm air downwards
  • Close blinds and shades at night to keep out cold air. Open them during the day to allow sunshine in.
Credit: WFAA

Reliant is urging Texans to particularly reduce their energy usage during peak times between the hours of 6 to 10 p.m. and 5 to 9 a.m. over the next few days.  

Those hours are often the times when temperatures are coldest and demand for electricity is highest, officials explained.

And officials are asking that businesses and other large consumers of electricity limit their use of electricity over the next few days to just essential production.

When should I report a power outage?

Oncor is telling customers they do not need to report outages at this time. 

The company's phone lines are experiencing record volumes so residents should expect a wait if they're trying to contact an agent. 

If your power doesn't come back on after a period of two hours, energy providers like CoServ, however, are urging you to contact them to report the outage.

Texans are also urged to immediately report any downed power lines by calling 911, Oncor officials said. Crews are staged across its service areas to respond to any problems.

How do I check for power outages in my area?

Oncor is advising Texans that they may experience multiple outage rotations. 

If you're an Oncor customer, click here to check the map for local outages. 

RELATED: Check Oncor map for local outages

RELATED: Check CoServ map for local outages

ERCOT also has a graph showing the state electrical grid's capacity compared to demand. To see it in real-time and what the agency forecasts over the next 24 hours, click here.

To see what power conditions look like across the state, click here.

RELATED: HOW TO: Keep your phone charged when you don't have power, conserve the battery now