People demanding answers after power outages impact over 4 million Texas households as a result of blistering cold weather
If you are from Texas, you have either heard about or bought into the self-proclaimed belief about the state in which you reside that “Everything is Bigger in Texas!” and boy do most Texans believe it.
By making the statement, it not only insinuates that the state itself is geographically big, but that everything that the state does – whether its individuals or businesses – is big…EVERYTHING!
The state of Texas also goes by the nickname of the “Lone Star State” which speaks to its former status as an independent republic and serves as a constant reminder to Texans of the fight and the struggles the state and its residents had endure to gain its independence from Mexico.
Not only does the state of Texas refer to itself as the “Lone Star State”, the Texas state flag and the Texas state seal both have a “Lone Star” symbol on them. That “Lone Star” symbolizes the bold and different approaches, as well as the independent positions, that the state of Texas takes on select issues.
Many times that independent and Lone Ranger-style approach to dealing with key issues concerning the state has proven to be problematic.
As we look at several key decisions that have been made by the state and its leadership going back to the response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which resulted in the loss of lives of many Texans, and now with the impact on the quality of life of Texans all across the state due to an unprecedented winter storm and the subsequent power outages as a result, we see that a key “Lone Star State” decision made by state leaders 22 years ago is coming back to bite them.
In 1999, the state of Texas made a decision to break away from the national power grid system because they wanted to avoid federal regulations. However, in making that decision, they put all their faith and reliance on an entity that was created to manage the state’s electric grid independently. The entity that is solely responsible for running the state’s electric grid is called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and it was established as a nonprofit in 1970 after a major blackout that occurred in the Northeast in 1965. Initially, ERCOT was responsible for managing the state’s grid reliability in accordance with national standards, but was later given greater authority and responsibility after electric deregulation took place in Texas.
It is important to note that the state’s grid is not under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and regulates interstate electric transmission, and that ERCOT is controlled by the Texas state legislature.
Almost the entire state of Texas, with the exception of the city of El Paso, the upper Panhandle and a portion of East Texas, is part of a single grid that is not interconnected with the surrounding states and has truly been operating as a “Lone Star State” when it comes to the handling of power and electricity for the majority of the state.
Because private electric companies are under ERCOT’s overall oversight and management, millions of Texans have found themselves without power of the past several days.
This past Monday, February 15th, a major winter storm swept through the state, causing many Texas residents to experience rolling blackouts due to the inability for the state’s grid to handle the overall demand that residents had coupled with the limited capacity that the grid generated. These rolling blackouts became more permanent for many hours and many days, as a result of the demand exceeding the general capacity.
According to a statement released by ERCOT on Monday, they declared a state of emergency for the state of Texas at the highest energy emergency level because of lower power supply and high demand due to extremely low temperatures during the winter storm. They stated at the time that there was no estimate as to when the power would come back on and officials stated at the time that it the power could be out for a couple of days. It left Texans and local officials outraged and in a panic for warm shelter, food and comfort, especially considering that more cold air was moving into the region within the coming days and they indicated that state’s grid would more than likely be impacted again and could lead to even more people losing power across Texas.
Talk about a nightmare!
State Representative Ron Reynolds shared on Facebook his frustrations and concerns from the state level.
“As a member of the House Energy Resources committee I will be asking for a full scale investigation into the ERCOT power outages/rolling blackouts in Texas,” said Rep. Reynolds. “This is TOTALLY unacceptable! Texans deserve better!”
His colleague on the Senate side in Texas, State Senator Borris Miles, also expressed his concerns.
“This is unacceptable,” said Sen. Miles. “I stand with Speaker Phelan in demanding a joint hearing be held on this manmade disaster. There must be an explanation on how this could happen at this magnitude. ERCOT’s feet will be held to the fire.”
At the county level, Fort Bend County Judge KP George chimed in on Twitter with his disappointment.
“As we enter sub-freezing temps (again!) we have no answers or sub-par answers from the State, grid operator, and utilities,” George stated. “Our first responders are at full capacity with record high calls for service. We as Texans MUST demand answers. I will be calling on the Texas Legislature to utilize their oversight functions on the grid, ERCOT, PUC, and energy companies ASAP. This is unacceptable. We have known for a week that the #ArcticFront was coming. We deserve answers. This is a LIFE & DEATH situation.”
From a local perspective, Missouri City resident Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad posted his comments of Facebook and challenged state leaders to put down partisan politics and gamesmanship to address the issue, stating:
“Dear Texas Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Senators, Representatives, and lobbyists: We must invest in energy grid infrastructure. The same incentives we hold out for the Tesla’s, we should offer to those who would build Texas a 22nd-century power grid. Look at the bills that have been filed. Are any addressing what I have just posted? Who is the committee of jurisdiction? Stop the partisan B.S. (voter suppression, Gerrymandering, gaming the tax system for the wealthy, punishing Blue and Purple cities and counties, etc.) and culture wars! People are suffering! Get to work!”
Mayor Sylvester Turner also took to Twitter to express his thoughts from a local level.
“The State must own and explain the magnitude of these power outages across the State,” said Turner. “ERCOT is the traffic manager of the electric grid which reports to the State. Neither the City nor the County controls or regulates ERCOT or the power generators. That is solely the responsibility of the State.”
From a federal standpoint, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee shared via Twitter:
“Today I spoke with senior U.S. DOE officials, who agreed to my request to identify additional energy resources that may be brought to Texas to relieve the stress on the Texas electric grid. Texans are suffering and rapid action is needed.”
This was truly and unprecedented storm, that ERCOT should have been prepared for, but was not.
As of early Tuesday morning, over 4 million Texas households were without power, according to poweroutage.us, and CenterPoint Energy reported that over 1.3 million customers were without power in the Greater Houston-area. Those numbers continued to climb as time went on, causing Texans to be forced to spend the night in freezing temperatures without the use of heaters. Several people even lost their lives due this lack of preparedness and effectiveness.
On Tuesday, February 16th, Governor Greg Abbott announced that he was pushing the Texas Legislature investigate ERCOT and place it on the agenda as an emergency item during this current Legislative Session. The Forward Times will keep you posted.
If you wish to let ERCOT know how you feel about their management of this storm, please contact them at 1-866-870-8124. Their website is www.ercot.com.