Almost half a million people in the State of Texas are still obliged to live under freezing temperatures after the state’s electricity infrastructure has failed to be fully operational during a record winter freeze.
Texas is the only US State, besides Alaska and Hawaii, that operates its own power grid, all other states being part of the two main power grids in the US; i.e., the Eastern Interconnection or Western Interconnection. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), technically a non-profit organization, manages the state’s power grid.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is blaming ERCOT directly for the ongoing crisis. "This was a total failure by ERCOT. [...]they showed that they were not reliable. These are specialists, and government has to rely upon these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations", Abbott said in an ABC13 interview. Officials at ERCOT explained that due to the below-freezing temperatures which could not be withstood by equipment at several generating plants, the choice was either shutting down power for customers or risking a collapse of the entire grid. Moreover, it is worthwhile to note that parts of Texas that are not serviced by ERCOT were spared from power outages. For example, the city of El Paso at the most western part of the state, which receives power from the Western Interconnection, did not experience severe power outages.
Amidst the crisis, several politicians were quick in blaming frozen wind turbines for the outages. Nonetheless, due to the freezing temperatures, malfunctions in all sources of power were reported. Texas mainly relies on natural gas for its power supply, with smaller portions of electricity generation coming from wind energy, coal and nuclear power. Natural gas plants have particularly underperformed since extreme cold weather makes it difficult for natural gas to flow to power plants. “Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now”, Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said to The Texas Tribune.
Moreover, criticism is also focusing on the insufficient winterization of the Texas power producing plants, and particularly the wind turbines. For example, other US states (ex. Iowa), which rely in a greater extent on wind energy and experience more severe winter freezes, have not experienced a power crisis of such magnitude. Such remark seems to indicate that, considering the accelerating pace and effects of the climate crisis, Texas power grid may have to face similar extreme events in the future.
Source: The Guardian