Blackouts possible as power companies brace for Houston's historic winter weather

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- UPDATE: ERCOT now says emergency conditions may be activated as soon as Sunday evening.

Next week's historic winter weather could cause blackouts in Houston and surging energy bills.

"Don't go out if you don't have to," said Houston resident Eric Dillenbeck. "Stay off the roads if it gets icy. Other than that, enjoy being hunkered down a little bit."

"I'm going to try to stay in and try to do inside games with the kids," said Houston resident Alissa Clark said.

Staying home could create an energy problem. State regulators believe next week could bring the largest energy demand in the winter than ever before.

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"Ercot is not asking consumers to do anything at this time. We're not asking for conservation. However if system conditions change and we do need to request conservation, then we will communicate that through the news media," explained Ercot spokesperson Leslie Sopko.

Next week, limiting your use may not be the only impact. Energy Ogre CEO Jesson Bradshaw says it's possible you may not be able to use electricity at all.

"It's a big problem," Bradshaw said. "It's a health and safety, life and limb type of situation. I know the folks who have a hand in this take it very, very seriously."

Regulators say power plants are starting to winterize. But frigid temperatures could impact plant pipes, and ice could knock over lines. Although they know the weather is coming, experts say it isn't like companies can produce more today for next week.

"Electricity doesn't work like any of our commodities that we buy, largely because we can't store it," Bradshaw explained.

If the power stays on, you could notice a price surge in a few weeks. Bradshaw said increased demand could increase the rate some customers pay.

If your bill is high, Bradshaw suggests using this event as a way to shop around for better rates. Energy Ogre offers a way to do so.

"It's an amazing amount of savings that people can get just by paying attention," Bradshaw explained.

Centerpoint Energy said customers can save money by keeping the thermostat below 68 degrees, and 60 degrees when they leave the house. Also, try to avoid space heaters because they use a lot of electricity.

The company also said customers who owe money won't have to live in the cold. The company won't cut off natural gas for customers who owe money starting Friday, and running through next week.

The National Weather Service recently shared some tips on how to remain warm if your power fails.

Close blinds or curtains to prevent warm air from escaping through windows. Close off rooms to contain heat. Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight and warm clothing.

Eat and drink. Food provides energy to warm the body. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.



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