record-cold temperatures—Houston beat a record previously set in 1895— it also stuck around for days. Freez- ing weather has only led to two other incidents in ERCOT’s history, once in December 1989 and again in February 2011. “Part of the problemis, whenERCOT does its long-range planning and its forecasting, it’s looking at averaging; it’s looking at trends,” Race said. “It’s not thinking enough about extreme weather events like this.” And yet, disasters are becoming more common and more damaging, particularly in Texas, according to fed- eral data. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found from 1980 to 2020, the United States experienced 285 climate-related disas- ters causing over $1 billion in damage, 124 of which occurred in Texas. Damage estimates for the Febru- ary event are not yet known, but the Insurance Council of Texas has said it expects it to be the largest claims event in the state’s history. “This has impacted every single Texan to one degree or another,” said Camille Garcia, director of communi- cation for the council. “We are project- ing into the hundreds of thousands of claims.” Substantial damage occurred after the freeze as water lines broke. In the city of Houston, there were 4,400 reports of water service issues from Feb. 15-22, according to 311 call data. “We get a lot of disasters, and it’s always sheer pandemonium right after, but this is a dierent level,” said Chato Woodard, an ocial with the Plumbers Local Union. “We go in to x a break, then turn the water back on and discover 12-13 leaks in the attics and everywhere.” ‘A lackof preparation’ ERCOT was founded in 1970 to
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and open the gate,” he said. “In times of need, we should be able to reach out to our neighbors.” This simple gesture—oering a power supply to those who needed it— was the kind of thing Texas’ isolated energy grid did not have access to, one of several faults critics said contrib- uted to devastating outages that have since led to a political reckoning unlike few before it. “Texans accept a culture of inde- pendence and competition—until it fails. Then it’s a test of our culture,” said Bruce Race, a University of Hous- ton professor and director of the Cen- ter for Sustainability and Resilience. “This was a shock, an event that, as shocks do, they reveal the weak points in any system.” Across the CenterPoint Energy ser- vice area, that shock put up to 1.42 million customers in the dark for sev- eral days, according to data from the transmission provider. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas, one of several regulatory bodies under scrutiny, had to force outages for over 70 hours statewide—nearly 10 times as long as a 2011 winter storm that led to earlier calls for improve- ments—to avoid a wider energy shut- down, ocials said. In doing so, however, many people were put in harm’s way. “It created a humanitarian crisis,” ERCOT board member Jackie Sargent said during a Feb. 24 meeting. “People in Texas should not have to endure such hardship—or anywhere, for that matter—in 2021.” Unprecedented crisis On Feb. 14, every county in Texas was under a winter storm warning, according to the National Weather Service, and not only did it bring
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas manages an electric grid that covers most of Texas and is disconnected from larger interconnections covering the rest of the U.S.
WESTERN INTERCONNECTION Includes El Paso and far West Texas 1 EASTERN INTERCONNECTION Includes portions of East Texas and the panhandle region 2
ERCOT INTERCONNECTION 3
ERCOT’s grid provides electric
ERCOT man- ages 90%
ERCOT provides for 26 million customers.
ERCOT’s grid includes 46,500 miles of transmission.
power to the majority of Texans.
of the Texas electrical load.
SOURCES: ELECTRIC RELIABILITY COUNCIL OF TEXAS, PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION OF TEXAS, POWEROUTAGE.US, U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATIONCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
manage the power grid that covers most of the state.While it is technically a nonprot, it is regulated by the Pub- lic Utility Commission of Texas, a state agency. It facilitates the wholesale and retail markets, oversees grid capacity and generation, and ensures access to transmission, though the council itself does not own its own power plants or infrastructure. ERCOT did alert generators and dis- tributionpartners that the stormwould bring “record-breaking demand” to the system, but some lawmakers pointed out the decisions that set up the grid for potential failure were made years in advance, such as failing to protect facilities from cold conditions. “We knew that it was going to get too cold for us to be able to generate enough wind, and there were turbine issues. ... That was not the big story,” said Daniel Cohan, a Rice University professor of civil and environmental engineering. “I think [it was] the lack
of preparation to get coal-red power plants, natural gas-red power plants [and] nuclear going, having adequate natural gas supply and having that started ahead of time. Really a lack of preparation.” More than 46,000 megawatts of generation and around 185 gener- ating units were removed from the grid, ERCOT reported Feb. 17, which it initially attributed to frozen wind turbines, limited gas supply and pres- sure, and frozen instrumentation. Most of the lost generation was from fossil fuels, dropping output by 20% between midnight and 3 a.m. Feb. 15, according to federal energy data. Response In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Gov. Greg Abbott made ERCOT reform an emergency item during the 2021 Texas legislative session. The Legislature began hearings Feb. 25 with ERCOT, the PUC and other
Out of 285 weather-related disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damage across the U.S. from 1980 to 2020, 124 occurred in Texas. This includes hurricanes, oods, droughts, freezes, wildres and other events.
A mix of local and federal programs are oering assistance for those aected by the storm.
STATE OF SHOCK
Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA can provide assistance to cover underinsured or uninsured individuals and businesses. www.disasterassistance.gov Small Business Administration: The SBA oers low-interest loans to help cover repairs and lost revenues. https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov
Houston-Harris County Winter Relief Fund: The relief fund is raising private donations to help residents quickly recover. www.winterstormrelieund.org Harris County Appraisal District: Under a new state law, property owners who experienced physical damage amounting to at least 15% of their property can request an exemption to lower their tax value assessment. www.hcad.org Texas Department of Emergency Management: https://damage.tdem.texas.gov City of Houston: bit.ly/DamageReportEn (English) bit.ly/DamageReportES (Spanish)
1-11 12-22 23-33 34-44 45-55 56-66 67-77 78-88 89-99 100+
Ocials are collecting information to better understand the extent of the damage. Individuals who do not need government relief are also encouraged to report.
SOURCE: NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATIONCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER • COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM
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