Several million without power in Texas as temperatures plunge as low as -20 C

Electricity prices spike more than 10,000% on the Texas power grid

A young boy wears a winter coat inside after the apartment his family lives in lost power following an overnight snowfall Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via The Associated Press)

A rare deep freeze in Texas that raised demand for power forced the U.S. state's electric grid operator on Monday to impose rotating blackouts that left nearly three million customers without electricity.

The cold snap sweeping Texas reached the northern part of neighbouring Mexico as well, where authorities said 4.7 million users lost power early on Monday.  Around midday, service had been restored to almost 2.6 million of them.

The website, which tracks power outages, said 2,820,764 Texas customers were experiencing outages around 2 p.m. CT

U.S. President Joe Biden approved the state's emergency declaration, unlocking federal assistance to tackle the rare deep freeze, where temperatures ranged from - 2 to -22 C.

WATCH | Winter storm hits Texas:

Winter storm hits parts of Texas, wind chill warnings issued

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With Texas under a disaster declaration, a winter storm blanketed much of the state in snow and wind chill warnings were issued, possibly for the first time ever in some parts. 0:58

Apart from Texas, much of the United States from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and into the mid-Atlantic states has been in the grip of bone-chilling weather over the weekend, featuring snow, sleet and freezing rain.

"The Texas power grid has not been compromised. The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter on Monday. "They are working to get generation back on line."

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) sought to cut power use in response to a winter record of 69,150 megawatts (MW) on Sunday evening, more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak in January 2018.

About 10,500 MW of customer load was shed at the highest point, enough power to serve approximately two million homes, it said, adding that extreme weather caused many generating units across fuel types to trip offline and become unavailable.

"Controlled outages will continue through today and into early tomorrow, possibly all of tomorrow," Dan Woodfin, director of systems operations at ERCOT, said at a Monday briefing.

Heavy snow blanketed highways in Austin, Texas, Feb 15. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via The Associated Press)

The freeze also took a toll on the energy industry in Texas, by far the country's largest crude producer, shutting oil refineries and forcing restrictions from natural gas pipeline operators.

The National Weather Service said that an Arctic air mass had spread southwards, well beyond areas accustomed to freezing weather, with winter storm warnings posted for most of the Gulf Coast region, Oklahoma and Missouri.

The storms knocked out nearly half the wind power generation capacity of Texas on Sunday.

Of the 25,000-plus megawatts of wind power capacity normally available in Texas, 12,000 megawatts was out of service on Sunday morning, an ERCOT spokesperson said.

A young girl creates a snow angel in Austin, Texas, on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. Much of the state was experiencing snow and freezing temperatures over the Presidents Day weekend. (Bronte Wittpenn /Austin American-Statesman via The Associated Press)

The spot price of electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000 per cent on Monday, according to data on the grid operator's website.

Real-time market prices on the power grid operated by the ERCOT have climbed as high as $11,000 Cdn per megawatt hour. A typical price on the grid, which supplies most of the electricity for Texas, is less than $100 per megawatt hour.

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