Harris Co. Judge Lina Hidalgo calls lit up downtown skyscrapers amid outages 'maddening'

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Lit Houston skyscrapers spark outrage amid power outages
As more than one million people in the Houston area sit without electricity, many want to know why some downtown buildings are still well lit? This is what we know.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With more than 1.3 million people in the Houston area still without electricity in the bitter cold, many wondered why empty offices in downtown skyscrapers remained brightly lit Monday night.

On Monday at about 8:30 p.m., the Houston skyline was visible, brightly lit up in the night as surrounding homes and businesses were left in the dark.

The visual has since garnered thousands of shares and reactions on social media, many of which include comments full of concern.

"Why is Downtown lit up like it's 4th of July?" asked on viewer on Twitter. "Surely not all those lights need to be on."

Another Twitter user wrote, "Most of downtown is office space, so why is it all lit up when they're asking everyone in Houston to conserve energy to help the power grid? The surrounding homes are not only dark but cold after hours without power in sub freezing temps. This is not a good look for Houston."

ABC13 reached out to the mayor's office after hearing residents' frustrations.

Here is the full statement:

"Throughout the day, Mayor Turner has asked people to conserve energy because of the power outages. He had mentioned it in tweets, zoom interviews and during his news conference. He has been in contact with CenterPoint Energy and others urging them to restore power to Houstonians as soon as possible. CenterPoint has assured the mayor that it is asking its major providers to conserve energy. The mayor encourages everyone to do their share to help during the extreme winter weather."

WATCH: What can the city do about outages? Mayor Turner answers

"If I had the power to do it, I would." Mayor Turner speaks about what is and isn't out of the city's control when it comes to the power outages.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also weighed in on the buildings lit up, calling it "maddening." She said she had been in touch with CenterPoint Energy Tuesday morning.

"They tell me that tonight, they've figured out a way to actually pull those buildings offline," Hidalgo said, explaining that the move wasn't one the energy company could make Monday night because critical infrastructure that runs through downtown needed to be protected.

WATCH: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo gives her response on the bright skyline amid power outages

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she got on the phone with CenterPoint, and they told her they've figured out a way to pull the lights from the skyscrapers Tuesday night. But she said there's a reason it wasn't done sooner.

Some Houstonians claimed they were also upset because residents of Dallas said city officials urged downtown businesses and buildings to turn off non-essential lights and equipment to conserve energy.

On Tuesday, BOMA, the Building Owners and Managers Association, sent this email to entities which operate downtown commercial properties:

"I hope this email finds you all safe and warm as we work through yet another unprecedented moment in history dealing with extreme weather here in Texas. By now, albeit not desirable, I am sure you are all becoming acclimated to the planned rolling power outages to conserve energy. As such, please continue to conserve energy to include shutting off lights in vacant spaces."

Meanwhile, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was critical of the state's power grid when speaking with Eyewitness News on Monday.

He compared the situation to a storm Houstonians can't forget.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was critical of the state's power grid when speaking with Eyewitness News on Monday.

"In 2008, when Hurricane Ike came through this area, there was a lot of conversation at the state level, even in the legislature, about ways to harden the system ... to improve the system," said Turner. "That was in 2008. That should've been a wake-up call. What you cannot have is ... just in the Houston region alone, 1.2 million customers without power for an extended period of time."

We also spoke with Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday and he said the massive outages that left millions in the dark were caused by private power companies that "fell short," calling it the winter version of "Hurricane Harvey."

"The people who have fallen short with regard to the power are the private power generation companies," Abbott said.

In a call with ABC13, Abbott expressed frustration that power generators hadn't done enough to ensure the flow of electricity would continue.

"There's a separate part of the system that is not working right now, and those are the private companies that generate the power that goes into ERCOT. And it's those private companies that generate power that are not working," Abbott said. "They were working up until about midnight last night, but after midnight, some of them literally froze up, and were incapable of providing power, and some are still incapable of providing power."

READ MORE: Gov. Abbott: Blame outages on power generators

Who's to blame for massive power outage caused by a historic winter storm across Texas? We asked Gov. Greg Abbott and here's his response.

Abbott promised that power would begin to be restored to about 200,000 residential customers as power plants begin coming back online after the winter storm that paralyzed the state left families desperate for power during the bitter cold.

After a cold event in 2011 that took power offline, power generators claim they did a better job of "winterizing" power plants, but Abbott says it didn't go far enough.

"I think after what happened in 2011, an assessment was not made to gauge for this type of event, because the last time we had this type of weather was more than 100 years ago," Abbott said. "We need to calibrate for this type of weather to make sure that the companies that are contracted with to provide the power generation in the state of Texas are going to be capable of providing power generation in these ultra cold temperatures."

The state legislature will likely look into if the state needs a backup system, Abbott said.

Grid managers declared an emergency Monday morning after the record-breaking energy use strained utilities beyond capacity. Texas' power grid experienced a systemwide failure as demand surged due to the historic winter conditions across the state.

Outages across Texas could last for hours, even stretching into days, due to multiple power generation plants that are offline, according to officials. An estimated 75% of the state's power generation capacity is impacted.