ERCOT Systemic Planning Failure

The polar vortex that hit Texas on February 14 paralyzed the state. With temperatures plunging to zero and slightly below, Texans experienced a massive electrical power outage. A similar set of circumstances occurred in 2008, causing a blackout at the Super Bowl, but lessons learned were apparently soon forgotten. Most of the State of Texas is dependent upon the alternating current electrical power grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Precipitation in the form of snow contributed to the disaster taking place here in North Texas. With the electrical power failure, homes and businesses were left without light and heat. Snow and ice made roads impassable. Water pipes began freezing and bursting, causing flooding in some instances. Scarcity of water became in issue, adding to the misery. Some folks were actually melting snow to flush their toilets. 

According to a New York Times article published on February 19, 2021 “Extreme Cold Killed Texans in their Bedrooms, Vehicles and Backyards”. Governor Greg Abbott requested a Disaster Declaration for all 254 Texas Counties, but President Biden was willing to sign the Declaration for only 77 counties in the disaster. Those counties are now eligible for FEMA and other forms of federal assistance. On February 23 there were 33 additional countries added to the list of those eligible for FEMA assistance in Texas, according to a bulletin posted by the White House.

The blame game has begun and, of course, politics has entered into the picture. In an interview with Fox News, Senator Ted Cruz blamed the power failure in part on the freezing of wind turbines, which normally provide 25% of the power on the grid. When temperatures dipped to zero, they were able to provide only 2% of the power, according to Cruz. Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan stated that the turbine failure was due to the fact that the turbines had not been winterized, adding that they function perfectly in Alaska and Antarctica, given proper maintenance. 

As far as the contiguous United States is concerned, Texas is an anomaly when it comes to electrical power regulation. There are many electrical grids, termed “major” and “minor”, and stretching across state lines. All those grids are subjected to those regulations. The Texas grid functions strictly within the State of Texas, and so it is not guided by federal regulations, such as consumer protection.

Nancy Ghirla