As extremely cold temperatures hit Texas in February, Texans all around the state experienced blackouts and a water crisis. Being privy to other parts of the country facing worse temperatures year-round than we do, many were left wondering how this could have happened. There was a multitude of reasons, and sadly, many are inexcusable.
Texas’ energy infrastructure is unique in one key aspect: We are largely energy independent, relative to the rest of the country. The United States has two main energy grids, a western and an eastern interconnection, respectively. Then there’s the Texas grid.
Leaders in Texas pride the state on being energy-independent, but sadly, that comes with some consequences when we endure a crisis much like the one we weathered. In national grids that support a multitude of different states, when one state is in crisis, energy can be directed for assistance. Texas quite literally being an island when it comes to energy dependency means that it does not have that luxury.
Furthermore, Texas’ electrical grid is largely unregulated and does not have to abide by the same standards that the interconnected grids do. According to Alvin Chang of The Guardian, “some experts say this lack of regulation is why the Texas grid wasn’t properly maintained and, in turn, failed with these stressors.”
As temperatures dropped and more people started using electricity for relief, primarily turning their heaters on to stay warm, the huge demand for energy overwhelmed energy sources. Rolling blackouts were instated to prevent generators from going totally offline (and they were dangerously close to completely being overwhelmed, which would have caused a state-wide blackout for what could have been literal months).
Nonetheless, not all of us experienced rolling blackouts where power would go off for only a brief period of time; millions of Texans went days without power. The unregulated ERCOT, or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, left many energy systems in Texas not winterized.
Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott course-corrected and blamed the failure on a multitude of different factors, he initially tried to blame it on a wind energy failure. While wind turbines did freeze, the frigid temperatures also took their toll on gas and coal energy sources. Texas uses a diverse mix of natural gas, wind, coal, nuclear, and solar, and its primary source of energy is natural gas. Gov. Abbott’s blaming it on wind comes off as posturing when the reality is that the grids simply couldn’t function under the dire conditions of the storm and the consumer demand that came with that.
In addition to the electricity crisis Texans endured, water pipes burst, or water pressure was so low that millions of residents lost water entirely. Many had to draw from water in apartment complex pools to flush toilets, and grocery stores were sold out of bottled water for days. Decreased water pressure allows harmful bacteria to grow quickly in water, causing millions to be on a boil-water notice in order to safely consume water.
It was particularly disheartening to see that downtown Houston’s largest buildings retained power, while so much of the city suffered; when in a time of crisis, it is, as usual, those who are less privileged than endure the brunt of the hardship.
This will not be the last time that Texas endures severe weather conditions, and those conditions will become more frequent the longer that issues like climate change and infrastructure that desperately need to be updated go without being addressed.
And while we’re at it, maybe it would be helpful that our leaders don’t flee to Cancun when there’s a statewide emergency. Or perhaps everyone that sits on the board of ERCOT could actually, you know, be residing in the state of Texas.
The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of MONTROSE STAR.