This editorial was published in the Feb. 17 edition of The Dallas Morning News.
With more than 4 million residents suffering hours without power in the midst of a historic cold snap and pandemic, Texans deserve to know what went wrong and why. So on Tuesday, as public outrage cascaded across the state, Gov. Greg Abbott wisely added an investigation into the power outage and reform of the grid operator to his list of emergency items for this Legislature to tackle.
The simple answer is the cold snap created a massive demand for electricity that exceeded the ability of power plants to generate it. Wind turbines froze and weather-related shutdowns of a nuclear plant in South Texas and similar disruptions to natural gas-powered electricity plants left Texans huddling at home with thermostats turned down to avert a larger and more dangerous power shutdown statewide.
But we want a better answer, namely: Could this have been avoided, and at what cost? Should the existing power grid and generation network be made more resilient to accommodate weather extremes, something lawmakers advocated after freezing weather crippled the power generators in 2011?
Only an honest investigation will get at the truth, and only compliance with the findings will prevent a replay. Originally, Abbott tweeted that the electricity grid had not been compromised and suggested the extreme weather alone was to blame. Later, Abbott attributed the massive outages to power companies falling short in their obligation and expanded his criticism to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator of Texas’ power grid, calling it “anything but reliable.”
It is not as though Texas hasn’t been through this before. In the early days of February 2011, many homes and businesses lost power from 20 minutes to over eight hours. Immediately, fingers of blame pointed to power companies, alleged market manipulation and faulty ERCOT energy management ...
In a television interview Tuesday, ERCOT chief executive officer Bill Magness said 70 to 80 generating units out of about 680 statewide are not working, idling about 45,000 megawatts, which he called “a high number.” He also said improvement in the weather and restoration of power units will determine the duration of this crisis. He said power plants had made winterization improvements in the past decade, but in light of this crisis suggested that officials need to have a conversation about incentives and winterization practices needed to keep power flowing.
Texas’ vibrant, competitive power market must be reliable and affordable. The state is growing, attracting new residents and corporations, many of them from California, a state that has a long history of power blackouts. It will be hard to make a competitive argument for relocations if we don’t deal with the weaknesses in the state’s power network.
We’ve been warned before. Maybe this time we’ll listen.