Feb 3, 2023 - News

Thousands of Austin households still without power

Frozen power lines are seen toppled over on Wednesday in Austin. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Even with temperatures rising, Austin Energy officials Thursday afternoon backtracked from their earlier prediction that power would be restored by Friday evening.

Why it matters: More than 121,000 households, or 22.38% of customers, remained without power as of 6am today.

What happened: Utility officials blame frozen power lines and fallen tree limbs for the outages, which left more than 150,000 Austin Energy customers without power this week — and continue to leave Austin and Round Rock public schools shuttered.

  • It's the city's most significant outage since the 2021 freeze.
  • This time, however, outages aren't due to a widespread failure by the state's power grid — putting local officials in an increasingly harsh light.
  • More than 100 utility crews worked Thursday to restore service, with more than 1,500 active outages, per the Austin Energy outage map.

Details: The storm sent people without power scrambling for refuge with friends and family or at hotels.

  • At the DoubleTree Hotel at I-35 and U.S. 290, at least 30 rooms were booked by people or families lacking electricity, Keeno Campbell, a hotel staffer, tells Axios.

What they're saying: "Our crews are in the field working as safely and quickly as possible to restore power from icy conditions," Austin Energy general manager Jackie Sargent told reporters in a Thursday press conference. "Our crews restored power to more than 113,000 customers in the last day, yet we are seeing ice and tree limbs knock out power again, sometimes on the same circuit our crews have just restored."

Of note: Austin and other Texas cities have overhead power lines, which fail when thick ice accumulates on them.

  • Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, told KXAN that underground lines are "very expensive" to swap in existing neighborhoods.
  • Austin Energy has looked into the possibility of burying lines, Austin Energy spokesperson Matthew Mitchell told KXAN, but "burying lines would involve billions of dollars and take decades to complete.

The bottom line: The crisis has become a political problem, with criticism mounting over whether local officials should have done more to brief the public as the outages were unfolding.

  • Austin Energy communications "have been a dud," University of Texas associate professor Hugh Daigle, who directs a sustainable energy degree program, tweeted.
  • "I've been frustrated and disappointed in the communication that I feel like should have been better with the people of the city," Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said Thursday.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Austin stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more