News Brief: Texas grid failure leads to crisis

Unusually cold weather shut down a large percentage of generation capacity in Texas. Sub-freezing temperatures caused operating failures throughout the Texas electrical grid. Natural gas lines and water supplies have been disrupted. Millions of people have been left without heat. The death toll is rising. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is getting a lot of the blame. Once called “the Texas miracle”, there are now questions about whether ERCOT’s standalone strategy is viable.

Does this cold mean there is no global warming?

That can be confusing, if you think global warming means all temperatures everywhere are higher at the same time. But global warming means average temperatures are rising, while climate patterns become less reliable. When the Arctic gets warmer, and the two temperature bands start to mix, climate patterns bleed. Arctic weather has now bled as far south as Texas and northern Mexico.

Is this deep Texas freeze an element of climate change?

Yes. It is a direct result of global warming. What we’re seeing in Texas is what happens when you’ve built a world that works one way, and now you have to confront challenges you weren’t prepared for.

Texas was warned the ERCOT system was not ready for this kind of event. What happened?

The argument that regulation “limits our freedoms” is made by businesses that have a vested interest in not being monitored. The goal is to reduce their accountability, so that they don’t have to meet higher standards. Once you start down that road, to where businesses start depending on not being held accountable, on not having to compete, on not having to be good at what they do, they can’t perform under stress.

When Texas was warned, that was a hard sell to people who had become accustomed to prospering politically or commercially from under-regulation. Decisions made by people facing those conflicts of interest made sure the people of Texas would be underserved and put in danger.

Is it true that renewable energy is to blame?

No. Wind turbines are routinely weatherized and can be winterized. Battery storage can help overcome disruptions. ERCOT itself has said disruptions resulting from renewables have been the least problematic. The more problematic are the disruptions to conventional energy systems.

Millions of people are suffering. Is there a solution?

This is avoidable. We can do better. We have to build systems that are climate-smart, that are resilient, that can deal with this kind of adversity, and where every person’s wellbeing actually matters to the people who are supposed to serve them.

With so many people facing emergency conditions, community groups and charitable organizations are sharing a Texas Mutual Aid Directory, in hopes of filling in gaps in the emergency response.

The Texas Tribune is providing regular live updates on the winter storm crisis in Texas.

To go deeper into the Texas energy crisis and other impacts of the severe winter weather, look at these articles and resources:

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