Power lines in Fort Worth, Texas
  • A rare winter storm has battered Texas, resulting in mass power outages across the state.
  • But the entity that operates the state's power grid said the blackouts could have been much worse.  
  • If grid operators hadn't acted quickly, parts of the state could have been without power for months.
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The blackouts that left millions of Texans without power or heat after a rare winter storm this week could have been much, much worse, officials said. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages 75% of the state's deregulated electricity market, said Thursday that the rolling blackouts were implemented to avoid catastrophic, uncontrolled blackouts that could have persisted for months, according to the Texas Tribune.

The outlet reported that the state's power grid was "seconds and minutes away" from a worst-case-scenario. 

According to the Tribune, officials said that early Monday morning, grid operators noticed warning signs that large amounts of energy supply had begun dropping off, prompting them to make a quick decision to implement rolling blackouts as a precautionary measure. 

The unusually frigid temperatures in the region caused pour sources to be inoperable, the paper said, causing the grid's power supply to fall right at the same time that consumers began turning up their heat to withstand the unusual cold. 

The freezing weather caused an unprecedented demand for heat - the need was higher the state's ability to supply it. Texas is the only state in the contiguous states to have its own power grid.

"The fundamental thing we have to do to protect reliability is to ensure there's not a catastrophic blackout - to ensure we don't get in a situation where we are starting the grid from scratch and power could be out for an indeterminate amount of time," Bill Magness, ERCOT's president and CEO, said on a press call, reported on by BuzzFeed News. "That is the disaster scenario that's our central job to avoid."

Magness reportedly responded to a question on the call about how close the state came to that disaster scenario and said "it was seconds and minutes."

Had grid operators waited to cut the amount of power distributed when they noticed the drop off, it could have resulted in "indeterminately long" blackouts throughout the state for months, Magness reportedly said.

In a worst-case-scenario situation, if the grid had gone completely offline, the equipment could have caught fire, power lines could have fallen, and damage to power infrastructure could have taken months to repair, the Tribune reported.

"As chaotic as it was, the whole grid could've been in blackout," Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at Enverus, an oil and gas software and information company headquartered in Austin told the newspaper. "ERCOT is getting a lot of heat, but the fact that it wasn't worse is because of those grid operators."

A spokesperson for ERCOT told the Tribune that nine grid operators are working at any time to make these decisions. 

"At the end of the day, our operators are highly trained and have the authority to make decisions that protect the reliability of the electric system," the spokesperson said in a statement to the outlet.

The near-miss is one more sign that the state was unprepared and unequipped to handle such a storm. 

Though one catastrophe was avoided, the ongoing power outages and food and water shortages have crippled the state, as another bout of winter weather batters the region. Hundreds of thousands remain without power on Thursday night.

ERCOT told the Tribune that "some level of rotating outages" could remain necessary for a few days, in order to keep the grid stable.

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