Friday, June 25, 2021

Officials looking for answers as winter storm exposes weaknesses in critical infrastructure services

The DFW area, like most of Texas, found itself under a blanket of snow and ice last week. Record low temperatures brought an onslaught of problems to the local population not used to dealing with such temperatures. Driving accidents and busted plumbing pipes were plentiful across the North Texas area.

However, the problem that has drawn the most ire was the loss of power for millions of Texans. The loss of power exacerbated the cold, with many people unable to heat their homes. Warming centers opened up across the state, as some residents saw days without power instead of the expected few hours.

There have been dozens of deaths reported in Texas due to the winter storm, though the exact total is not yet known. There are 66 Texas counties which have met the federal requirements for disaster relief as a result of last week’s weather.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, more recently cited under its acronym “ERCOT” has found itself in the spotlight, and answering for why the Texas power grid failed when it was needed most.

 

In an overnight onslaught of winter weather last week, the Dallas area was blanketed with snow and ice, and the ensuing power outages resulted in life-threatening complications for many across Texas. (Photo: David Wilfong / NDG)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked for the performance of ERCOT during the storm, as well as the winterization of the Texas power grid to be added as emergency items in the legislative session.

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“The past several days have been beyond challenging, but with every passing hour we are restoring power and water for families across Texas,” said Abbott. “We are doing all we can to make it through this challenge, and the state continues to deploy resources and personnel throughout the state. I want to thank the men and women who are working around the clock in harsh conditions to get the power up and running again, and I ask all Texans to keep them in their prayers. Texans should continue to take proper precautions and follow local guidance to stay safe and warm. We will get through this together.”

Abbott said he is seeking investigations into the performance of ERCOT as well as reform measures to protect against future occurances. Following the backlash, several ERCOT board members relinquished their positions this week.

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Four members of the ERCOT board of directors have tendered their resignations. The four members received a high amount of attention as they were not even residents of the state. Board Chairman Sally Talberg is a Michigan resident, while Vice Chairman Peter Crampton resides in Germany. Also resigning were Terry Bulger of Illinois; and Raymond Hepper, who lives in Maine.

(UPDATE: Five members of the ERCOT board have now resigned.)

The resignations were not enough to satisfy Dallas-based U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX30), who vowed to bring the incident up for further review at the national level.

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“These resignations are certainly welcomed,” Johnson said. “However, they do not mark the end of our inquiry into ERCOT’s failure to prepare its energy infrastructure for extreme weather conditions. It is unacceptable that millions of Texans were left without power for days on end during one of the worst winter storms in our state’s history. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which I Chair, is examining what happened and will be holding a hearing on the grid failure that was responsible for the power outages. I am committed to working with local, state, and federal leaders to learn more about what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again.”

As with most natural disasters, the effects of the recent winter storm, and the power failures that followed, disporportionately impacted low income families; which in turn are disproportionately people of color.

The whole episode is leaving many civic leaders and organizations looking for accountability and assurances that the next cold blast will not be a repeat perfomance from service providers.

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