Winter Storms Trigger Energy Crisis

Texas, other areas hit with snow; legislators call for ERCOT reform

Consecutive winter storms, including Winter Storm Uri and a cold snap, blindsided nearly half the country over the past week. While multiple states dealt with unexpected, unseasonal weather, Texas remains the most harshly affected as it grapples with grid issues.

From roughly February 11-15, the cold blast hovered over various parts of the central U.S. Its effects included frozen natural gas pipelines, road closures, and sadly, at least 20 deaths at last count. But perhaps the most lasting effect is the continual fallout concerning the electrical grid. Electricity prices spiked to record levels and ultimately forced Texas’s grid operator to cut off electricity to as many as 4 million homes. The event marks the first winter weather-related rolling blackouts since 2011, according to Weather.com. Outages ultimately permeated a 14-state grid across the southwest, sparking blowback to Texas’ grid operators, ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas).

Texas is unique because it has its own section of the power grid. This has always been accepted due to the state’s large size, but the recent storm has punctured that conversation.

At least 200 million people were without power nationwide at the peak of outages, setting records, triggering emergency declarations, and affecting wildlife. The storm touched areas from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South, where record lows in temperature were set in some places. “Energy markets have never seen anything quite like this,” wrote Bloomberg’s Lynn Doan in one assessment of the situation earlier this week. That was before a secondary wave of snow and ice moved in and continued to hover around much of Texas into today.

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RELATED: Snow has been in odd places this year. It even blanketed the Acropolis in Greece. 

In Athens, rare snow blankets Acropolis, halts vaccinations (apnews.com)

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In addition to ERCOT, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) have implemented controlled power outages across portions of their systems to manage load.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said February 16 that reforming and investigating ERCOT are top priorities once power is restored. In a statement, Abbott did concede that the situation was “impossible to prepare for” but also sparked further controversy and calls for his removal by blaming renewable energy sources as unreliable and part of the cause for the outages.

The ongoing situation caused the U.S. Dept. of Energy to issue a situation report Tuesday. Also, an “Urgent Board of Directors Meeting” at ERCOT is scheduled for February 24.

More than 4 million Texas electric customers were without power Tuesday morning, and as many as 3 million remained without power late Tuesday, with no timetable as to when electricity service would be restored. Many people in Texas have been without power for two days or more. Bill Magness, ERCOT’s CEO, asked Tuesday when the outages would end, could not give a firm answer.

“The number one job of everybody here at ERCOT is to get people’s lights back on,” Magness told Fort Worth radio station WFAA. “We’re seeing demand in the winter nearly like we see at the top of the summer, when we’re all using our air conditioners.”

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