What Can We Learn From the Texas Disaster?

Texas is still a disaster at the moment, and it has been since February. The cause? A few inches of snow. For much of the country, that would be a regular winter day. For one of the farthest south states in the country, it’s a major problem.

Almost all of Texas lost power, which in turn led to other issues. Water pipes froze and then burst. The heat went out too. Much of the Lone Star State did not have landline phone service. “How could this happen?” demanded many. Well, it turns out that there were a few confounding factors in this major power outage. The largest? Texas’ electrical grid. In case you were unaware, there are three main power grids within the United States. The East has one, the West has one, and Texas has its own separate power grid. These three grids are all connected to each other via various interconnection stations. Many wondered why Texas would choose to largely isolate itself electrically from the rest of the nation. Turns out, the motives were less than good. In the 1930s ,when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Power Act to give authority over the grid to the Federal Government, Texas found a loophole. If the grid did not cross state lines, they would be able to maintain their own independent authority over the grid and the laws surrounding it.

When it comes to more modern implications, this choice means a few things. For one, it means that Texas power companies were not required to winterize their facilities like much of the rest of the nation. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue for such a warm state. But when this freak storm hit, Texans paid the price. On top of that, the Texas grid is managed by a private contracting company known as ERCOT. They had even less authority than the state over safety and emergency preparedness requirements at individual power plants.

Many government officials and radio personalities like to blame one specific policy for the power failure. It’s called the Green New Deal, and it is an ultra-progressive push being led by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The plan aims to aggressively subsidize the building of green energy and begin government projects paying laborers to work on the building on wind turbines, power dams, and other green energy solutions. Of course, this is not actually a policy that is currently in place. Along with that, Texas only gets about 25% of its power from green energy plants (Source: ERCOT in collaboration with Statistia.) More likely than not, it is a dig by Republican lawmakers to undermine an already-controversial policy proposal.

It’s clear that the best way to move forward from the Texas power outages is to require the winterization of power plants all across the nation, and maybe even integrate the state’s private grid with the surrounding national grids. With Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) coming back from his vacation to Cancun, we can hope that he will use his political influence to help Texas winterize and prepare its grid for the next major storm. Until then, the state will be a sitting duck, just waiting until the next blizzard comes along and has the same impact, killing more Texans in the process.

Read more about the impact of the Texas snowstorm with this article from Vienna Gurev.

— Martin Heintzelman