Inside One Texas City’s Struggle to Keep Power and Water Running

Denton is a midsize Texas city north of Dallas. This week, it became a microcosm of the cascading crises that has beset the state: electricity blackouts, natural-gas shortages and water problems.

Denton and other parts of Texas are experiencing their third straight day of blackouts as a deep freeze created record demand for electricity and wreaked havoc on the operation of dozens of power plants. The weather also hobbled the gas industry’s ability to provide enough fuel. The result was a public-health emergency and political firestorm inside the nation’s second most populous state.

As Sunday rolled into Monday, Denton was prepared for an unusually cold, but not extraordinary, week. The temperature dipped to 4 degrees, shattering the old record for the date, which had stood for a century. The University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University, both served by a city-owned power company, expected to open for a mix of in-person and remote classes.

About 1:30 a.m. Monday, the state’s power grid declared its highest level of emergency. A number of natural-gas and coal-burning power plants had shut off because of the cold, and the grid didn’t have enough megawatts to go around. The state’s grid operator ordered local power companies to begin shutting off customers to keep the grid balanced.

Denton Municipal Electric had to comply. Employees gathered around a computer and manually selected certain areas to go dark, said General Manager Tony Puente. Circuits with hospitals, nursing homes, water pumps and other critical infrastructure were exempted.

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