An Icy Disaster In Texas

By Braden Stutz

In mid-February, Texas faced another historic storm. This time, it was an ice storm. Yep! An ice storm in Texas, you heard correct! According to the Texas Tribune, “The winter storm that left dozens of Texans dead, millions without power and nearly 15 million with water issues could be the costliest disaster in state history, potentially exceeding the $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Harvey.”

The ice began forming on Thursday the 11th of February. Texans are not used to driving in such conditions, and being a native Texan myself I can assure you that to be true. I was on the way to the airport in the Permian basin, and as I was on highway 191, I saw 2 car wrecks, 3 off the road, and one car heading eastbound slid off the road, which didn’t stop until it slid across the road going westbound towards Odessa, all within 10 minutes of driving. On that same day in Dallas, there was a car pile-up that consisted of 133 cars Interstate 35 West in Fort Worth leaving at least 9 people dead.  San Antonio quickly shut down school districts, more than 300,000 people were without power in Bexar County. In one afternoon, Houston had about 20,000 people without power, and Mayor Sylvester Turner said that the power crash was “foreseeable and preventable”.  

El Paso fared better , “because of the vast distance that separates El Paso from Texas’s other major population centers, and because its customer base includes parts of southern New Mexico, the power supply of the city’s public utility isn’t linked to the grid overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. Instead, it’s connected to the Western Interconnection grid, which spans fourteen states in the West, along with parts of Canada and Mexico. As a consequence, when the winter freeze hit Texas, El Paso Electric had a sizable safety net.”

The entire state of Texas faced a catastrophe. Every single county was under winter weather alert. The question to be asked here is who is responsible for the power crash and how can we be better prepared for the next time we face a crisis like this? First, we have to address that Texas has its own power grid. There is one large grid covering the Eastern half of the country, another for the West, with Texas wedged between them.

Texans are very prideful people. They embody the most proud elements that Americans carry with them. When people from other states or even countries who don’t like Texas tell someone from Texas something like “I feel bad for you that you are a Texan” a Texan would respond with something like “I don’t think about you at all”, and that attitude reflects in both the culture and politics of Texas. 

Texas wanted its own power grid, which is often referred to as the Texas Interconnection. The Texas Interconnection is an alternating current (AC) power grid – a wide area synchronous grid – that covers most of the state of Texas. The grid is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The Texas Interconnection is one of the three minor grids in the North American power transmission grid. 

ERCOT manages the flow of power to more than 26 million Texas customers and represents about 90% of the state’s electricity load. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was created in 1970; it became a significant power of broker over electricity flows after deregulation in this century. ERCOT has since taken most of the blame for the electrical issues during this storm. 

Many of the claims for this winter blackout came from republicans blaming frozen turbines and clean energy solely. Governor Abbott said in and interview with Sean Hannity, “Texas is blessed with multiple sources of energy, such as natural gas and oil and nuclear, but you saw from what [inaudible] said, and that is our wind and our solar, they got shut down and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis, that was power that was spread out by that ERCOT organization…” Governor Abbott has promised multiple investigations of this storm and made ERCOT an “emergency” item for the Legislature.

The storm is over, but the effects still linger. The Texas Tribune reported on Wednesday that as of Monday “spending $41 million on the storm, and local governments had spent $49 million, according to Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Department of Emergency Management”. The historic freeze and power outages brought agriculture across the state to a halt. Dairy farmers were forced to dump gallons of unpasteurized milk for days as processing plants were left without power.

Darren Turley, the executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen. Most of Texas’ livestock survived the harsh weather, he said, but a loss of power meant processing and production was at a standstill and will need time to recover. Turley said Panhandle livestock are used to severe winter weather, “But our natural gas was turned off and so much of our processing relies on that.”

Since the storm has ended, things have been moving back into place but there is still a huge dent in our economy. CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams says affordability issues are looming because of the high fuel costs during the cold weather. And they are currently looking to spread the high cost from the storm over a 10 maybe 15 year period since the state’s natural gas prices increased over 16,000%

Since then many Texas businesses have stepped up in fixing the state’s economy and offering service to the people of Texas. of $1 million to support 18 Texas food banks. According to a news release on Wednesday, H-E-B has already delivered 23 truckloads of food as well as nearly $100,000 in Meal Simple meals to food banks. President Joe Biden came to Houston last week to discuss with Harris county officials to discuss the storm, recovery, relief, and COVID vaccinations. President Biden along with First Lady Jill Biden, helped offer water and food supplies at a local assembly line and President Bident signed a major disaster order to get FEMA money flowing and distributing resources to support the people of Texas. 

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