- In 1941, the Texas Interconnected System was created so power could be transferred to different parts of the state when needed.
- An August 2011 report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended winterization to prevent electrical failure from happening again.
- The real cause of the power disaster was the lack of winter preparation to include frozen natural gas plants.
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. ” – Ronald Regan
On February 13, 2021, Winter Storm Uri rolled over Texas, leaving in its path millions without power. Though this quote has been used as a rallying cry against government intervention, the recent disaster shows that the government’s regulation may serve a useful purpose. Coupled with a misinformation campaign led by the Texas Governor, it is up to the state to decide whether it is willing to face another winter storm crippling the power system.
The circumstances that led to the disaster began decades prior during the buildup for World War II. In 1935, the Federal Power Act enabled the federal government to regulate electrical systems between states as “interstate commerce.” Given the uniquely Texas attitude that is extremely against regulations, Texas’s power companies refused to send power out of the state to avoid federal oversight.
In 1941, the Texas Interconnected System was created so power could be transferred to different parts of the state when needed. While today’s power can be transferred limitedly between the Texas grid and other electrical systems, ERCOT (Electrical Reliability Council of Texas) manages the Texas electrical system without federal regulation.
The February 2021 winter storm was not the first storm to cripple the Texas power system. In early February 2011, a similar event occurred in which ERCOT was forced to implement rolling blackouts to protect the electrical grid. An August 2011 report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended improving winterization to prevent electrical failure from happening again.
These calls from the Federal commission generally went unheeded. Dr. David Tuttle from the University of Texas Energy Institute gave one reason for failure to winterize – “Because it costs money.”
Even after facing a winter storm that nearly shut down the Texas power grid, ERCOT refused to prepare for future storms because they did not want to pay the cost associated with upgrades. Because ERCOT was not mandated to improve the winterization of their equipment, they chose not to even though they were warned another storm could cause future blackouts.
Flash forward a decade, and the same thing happened again. A frigid winter storm rolled through Texas. Since the power grid was not appropriately winterized to withstand such cold temperatures, it likewise caused power outages. This time, more than three million Texas households lost power to their homes for days on end.
What you need to know
The Green New Deal and its champion, the infamous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D NY-14), have made headlines in congress for the last couple of years. The intent of the GND is to implement sweeping changes to the American energy sector, relying mainly on clean, renewable energy rather than the current focus on natural gas and other fossil fuels.
This became the target of Governor Greg Abbott in his interview with Fox News. He falsely claimed that renewable energy such as wind turbines was the reason that Texas was in such bad shape during the 2021 winter storm while simultaneously warning that the rest of the country would face the same fate if it followed the Green New Deal. If Antarctica can run off renewable energy, so can Texas. It all depends upon winterization.
The real cause of the power disaster was the lack of winter preparation to include frozen natural gas plants.
While ERCOT and Texas as a whole continued to work on a solution (which already has an answer), an exciting idea was brought up by another political champion but from the other side of the aisle, Senator Ted Cruz.
After facing backlash for the “hastily” planned trip to Cancun, Senator Cruz seemed to hint at the power grid regulation as essential for the prevention of future disasters. In other words, a Texan is calling for regulation of the power grid built by Texans specifically to avoid regulation. It’s just another example of the irony that fills today’s political environment.
Government regulation could have ensured ERCOT winterized its equipment as the FERC recommended. While this might not have stopped such an embarrassing failure, it could have helped mitigate the extent of the disaster. According to the Indy Star, government regulation mandating winterization helps prevent disasters such as the Texas incident from happening. Maybe the government isn’t so terrifying after all. Quite possibly, regulation might serve a purpose.
Why it matters
Moving forward, it is up to the State of Texas to decide if it’s finally willing to regulate its power grid after decades of a “rebellious,” anti-regulation attitude. As a Texan who has personally lived through the last two power failures, I can only hope that the elected officials in Austin finally decide to do something about it. Or in the infamous words of the Colorado City, Texas Mayor Tim Boyd in a Facebook rant,
“No one owes you anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this… only the strong will survive, and the weak will perish…” [sic].
There are two paths we Texan can take forward. Hopefully, I don’t have to find out we chose wrong in a decade or so.
Kristopher Hernandez is a native of West Texas. He spent four years serving in the United States Marine Corps and graduated from Campbell University, earning his BS in Political Science and History. In his free time, Kris likes to play golf, workout, and travel with his rescued pup Otto von Bismark.