By Jovani Alejandro Contreras
The Lone Star state is known for its hot temperatures and dry climate but on Monday morning Texans turned up their heaters after the state reached single-digit temperatures. The massive snowstorm, Winter Storm Uri, hit Texas on Saturday, Feb. 13, bringing snow and ice from coast-to-coast. The frigid temperatures caused the Texas independent power grid to buckle and left millions of families without power.
Diego Contreras is a college student and Austin, Texas resident whose life was changed by the power outages. When asked about how the storm affected him and his family, he said, “We couldn’t go to work and we couldn’t drive anywhere because of the street conditions so that meant we couldn’t go grocery shopping. We also didn’t have power, so I couldn’t go to [online] school. We didn’t have service so we couldn’t get in touch with anyone. Then our pipes froze so we didn’t have any water either, we couldn’t take showers or wash our hands. All our basic amenities were gone.”
Contreras was only one of the millions of Texans who experienced similar power blackouts and system failures. In some cases, pipes and water systems not only froze but burst, flooding entire houses and endangering families. In other, more fatal, instances residents died of hypothermia after being left with no power in the extreme cold.
The power crisis has led to more than two dozen deaths according to health officials. There was also a spike in carbon monoxide (CO) deaths as Texas families tried to warm themselves using portable generators without proper ventilation resulting in (CO) poisoning.
Texans want answers from local government: Could this have been prevented? Why was the power grid so susceptible to cold temperatures?
Texas is the only state in the nation to have an isolated power grid ran by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas
(ERCOT). The independent grid allows the state to avoid federal regulations but the trade-off limits the grid’s use of emergency power. ERCOT did not opt to winterize their grid before the storm hit causing wind turbines to freeze, gas plants to shut down, and nuclear reactors to stop.
Although it seems like a stand-alone event this is not the first time the Texas power grid failed under temperature changes. In 1989, Texas experienced a storm that shut down power plants, and more recently in 2011 over twenty generators failed after a similar winter storm.
For decades Texas was warned to winterize its grid after previous failures yet not much action has been taken by ERCOT or local government until recently. Federal regulations that ERCOT and the independent grid avoid could have possibly prevented this crisis.
More controversy surrounded Texas officials during the aftermath of the storm. Texas Governor Greg Abbot and other Republicans blamed the Green New Deal and clean energy for the outages yet the state is mainly run on fossil fuels.
When it was time for recovery, Contreras felt that a majority of the aid was coming from the community rather than from local government: “I know for sure that communities were helping people but I don’t know if the government had a hand in it. There were schools turning into warming centers and shelters for the time being so that was pretty helpful but it didn’t really feel like they [public officials] were helping.”
In the aftermath, there have been calls for change among government officials and Texas residents to ensure history will not repeat itself. Victims of the crisis and residents are demanding energy reform, Contreras left off with what action he thinks needs to be taken: “Texas should get back on the grid, they’re just better prepared for climate change. If they don’t reconnect then they need to take this as a learning experience and winterize their grids to be better prepared.”
Featured image at the top of the page:
Texas residents carry supplies up snow-covered road PHOTO CREDIT: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images