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Texas Energy Failure: Cold weather highlights power grid frailties

Texas, known for its hot summers and mild winters, has seen temperatures plummet this month leaving the power grid woefully unprepared. The state very rarely sees temperatures drop below 0°C but has experienced an unprecedented bout of cold temperatures reaching almost -20°C in parts. The country is the only one of the 48 contiguous states which has an isolated power grid, the Texas Interconnection. This has meant it has been unable to seek energy from other states after not being able to provide from its own supply.  Knock on effects have been unsafe roads, empty supermarket shelves and cases of burst water pipes which have caused havoc across the state where each county has been affected in some way.

The causes of the Texas power shortages have been a steep rise in demand, power generating plants being put out of action due to the weather and the isolation of the Texan power grid. This energy independence has long been a source of state pride with Texas being the second largest energy producing state after Alaska. Effectively, the issue arose from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) failing to predict the demand for energy after the recent storm. Despite this, the lack of excess capacity is clearly a fundamental issue with the Texas Interconnection which has been exposed at a sign of unexpected weather. Additionally, the energy market is heavily deregulated and the state has over 300 providers, making the market extremely competitive. One example of how this has impacted the current situation is through the lack of investment in winterizing power equipment. Due to the relatively mild winters it is not seen as in the interest of profitability to do so and with no mandatory state law requiring this practice it is rare. It has also recently emerged that Texans have been overpaying for energy since 2004 when the state left the regulated market, with the Wall Street Journal estimating that consumers paid $28bn over the past 16 years.

Despite the independent directors of the Texas Interconnection resigning and calls for reform of ECROT, senior Republicans within the state have shifted the blame to renewable energy sources. Former Texan governor and US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, has claimed the crisis should lead people to rethink if wind and solar sources of energy are the way forward and current governor Greg Abbott has claimed questions should be raised over the Green New Deal. Local energy officials from ECROT have reported that the lack of power can predominantly be attributed to oil, gas, coal and nuclear sources. The cause of these weather conditions is due to a “sudden stratospheric warming”.  Some experts claim warming temperatures are making these movements more frequent and longer, but this has not been proven. Whether it responsible or not, it is clear that climate change is causing more unpredictable weather across the globe. As such, it is important that energy operators do not leave themselves as exposed as Texas has as we may see frequent failures in the coming years.