Updated: Oct 29, 2021
We all thought we knew what to expect during the winter storm last week. The weather event was shaping up just as the models predicted, and as most Texans knew from past cold weather days, driving conditions were to be quite hazardous. After all, Texas cities do not have the equipment necessary to properly clear roadways during ice and snow because usually, a bit of sand does the trick. As we prepared for the week ahead, we did not know that in the coming days we would be failed not only by our power grid but also by the elected officials running our state.
When the news began to break that Texas’ power grid was overwhelmed, most Texans believed that power outages would last for short amounts of time. Phones were buzzing with notifications from electric providers, and we all waited for our rolling blackout times. As many Texans lost power and the rolling blackout timeframe came and went, concerns grew about how long the power would actually be down.
As a Texas millennial, I was unaware of our independent, deregulated electric grid. Even my brother, who has worked in the oil and gas industry for a decade, was questioning how this could possibly happen in Texas. To me, ERCOT was just five letters on my monthly electric bills, so I began looking into the history of the Texas power grid and became increasingly upset at the findings.
Fool Me Once
On researching ERCOT, I found that Texas had numerous winter weather events in the past that caused issues with our power grid (1983, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2010), but the events of 1989 and 2011 were most notable and similar. In both instances, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation wrote reports with recommendations for ERCOT. The 2011 report even states that the winterization recommendations made in the 1989 report were never implemented and that 4.4 million people were affected over the course of February 2 through February 4, 2011.
According to the report, “The production losses stemmed principally from three things: freeze-offs, icy roads and rolling electric blackouts or customer curtailments. Freeze-offs occurred when the small amount of water produced alongside the natural gas crystallized or froze, completely blocking off the gas flow and shutting down the well. Freeze-offs routinely occur in very cold weather, and affected at least some of these basins in all of the six recent cold weather events in the Southwest with the possible exception of 1983, for which adequate records are not available.”
The report concludes that winterization would significantly lessen or eliminate problems in the future, but just like in 1989, there was no action taken by ERCOT or the Texas GOP who controlled the Texas House, Texas Senate, and Governor’s office. Of course, there were more pressing things occurring in the Texas Legislature at the time: Redistricting.
Fool Me Twice
Last week, temperatures plunged and by Tuesday, February 16, 4.5 million Texans were without power. According to Bill Magness, ERCOT’s CEO, the Texas power grid was “4 minutes 37 seconds away from a total collapse.” A total failure would have meant a loss of power for weeks or possibly longer.
That same day, Gov. Greg Abbott scheduled an interview on Fox News where he blamed policies that are not in place in the state of Texas -- telling Sean Hannity, “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”
The following day, Wednesday, February 17, Senator Ted Cruz boarded a flight to Cancun because his Houston home was without electricity. Attorney General Ken Paxton also departed Texas, as he and his wife flew to Utah. Magness, interviewed that day, stated this was a winter storm unlike any other Texas had ever seen before.
What’s unfortunate for these elected officials and appointees is that not only had we seen this happen before, but the inaction of Texas’ officials is well-documented and reported in several 300-page documents.
So, the question for Texans at this point is: Are we going to let them fool us again or are we going to hold them accountable now and in 2022 and 2024?