State leaders proving roughly as reliable as state grid during winter weather fiasco
By Erica Grieder February 17, 2021
Take heart, Texans: Gov. Greg Abbott has noticed that it’s been a tough few days for you and your family.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday, announcing that he had decided to list ERCOT reform as one of his emergency items for this year’s legislative session, which began in January.
“Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather,” he continued. “This is unacceptable.”
Indeed. At the time, more than 4 million households across Texas were without power, heat or recourse in the wake of the winter storm that blanketed the state Sunday, driving Houston temperatures into the teens. We were warned to expect rolling blackouts, starting Sunday night, along with a light smattering of snow in the region. What we got was something far more serious, with more than a dozen people dying in weather-related circumstances in the Houston area alone.
“These are not rolling blackouts,” tweeted Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Monday morning, as the scope of the problem was becoming clear. “We are dealing with system-wide power outages across the state.”
And in the energy capital of the world, no less. If not for the frigid temperatures, our cheeks would be burning with shame.
As the day wore on, we got an explanation, sort of, for what was happening. The extreme cold, which drove a surge in consumer demand for power, also resulted in large-scale generation problems. The result was that ERCOT — which manages the flow of power for the state’s electric grid — ordered providers to shed load in a dramatic fashion, in order to keep critical load circuits online.
But such an explanation raises as many questions as it answers. This was, as Turner swiftly noted, a systemwide problem — and a statewide one. Despite some early efforts to breezily pin the problem on wind turbines, some of which had frozen over and therefore stopped spinning, it became evident that wind power going offline represented a relatively small share of the generation shortfall. And while it’s true, and to be expected, that the state grid is better equipped to handle extreme heat than extreme cold, it’s not as if the leaders of ERCOT couldn’t anticipate the occasional bout of genuine winter weather, or plan accordingly.