By Erin Maxwell || News Editor
Freezing temperatures hitting below 0℉ hit Texas this week as winter storm system Uri coated over 71% of the United States in snow. As Texans rushed to plug in their heaters, the power grid subsequently collapsed, leaving nearly 4.5 million citizens without power Tuesday.
Across the United States, three major power grids serve customers: one covering the eastern region, one covering the western region, and one central to Texas, governed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. This council manages 90% of the state’s power, managing the needs of 26 million customers in a state where power has historically been part of its very culture. As an unprecedented energy demand overloaded frozen utility plants, which were not sufficiently weather-proofed for these temperatures, a small team of operators was forced to make a split-second decision to institute controlled rolling outages. Although ERCOT initially promised an average controlled outage of 45 minutes, reduced control over the shaky grid has left many without power for days on end. Varun Rai, the director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas-Austin told USA Today that “no matter which way you cut it, this is a massive failure for a grid and a state that holds up energy and electricity as a shining example,” (USA Today).
Initially, Governor Greg Abbott took to Fox News to point the finger at renewable energy, stating that wind and solar power were “collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis,” (NPR). However, ERCOT was quick to correct him, as significantly more natural gas and coal actually had gone offline than renewables. Bill Magness, the president and CEO of ERCOT emphasized that this was the failure of an entire system, stating that they saw “coal plants, gas plants, wind, solar, just all sorts of our resources trip off and not be able to perform,” (NPR). Finally, Abbott revised his stance and focused on the need to weatherize Texas’ pipelines and plants, adding the reform of ERCOT to the top of his legislative agenda.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 21 deaths were recorded as attributable to the storm, with marginalized communities being among the hardest-hit. Already lacking proper infrastructure, from pipe systems to insulation, these neighborhoods were among the first to experience outages, and will likely suffer the longest, as asserted by Robert Bullar, a professor at Texas Southern University specializing in wealth and racial disparities related to the environment. Across the state, residents are resorting to drastic measures, from cutting up furniture for their fireplaces to sitting in their cars for hours as a source of heat.
Thursday morning brought some progress, but this deep freeze has served as a wake-up call for the state to make significant changes to its power system, as the forces of climate change threaten increasingly severe weather events. Local legislators and Governor Abbott have pledged their intentions to reform the system in light of this crisis, but notably quiet has been Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who boarded a plane to Cancun this Thursday with his family to wait out the winter storm in a five-star luxury resort, much to the criticism of his suffering constituents.
As ERCOT scrambles to bring back power to over 380,000 still in the dark, this event is one in a list of severe weather events including tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires that have threatened existing American infrastructure, reviving the argument for reform in light of the ever-looming climate crisis.
Sophomore Erin Maxwell is the News Editor for The College Reporter. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.