The state of Texas is in crisis after a winter storm. People in the Lone Star State are experiencing blackouts as officials have shut the power down amid fears the state’s energy infrastructure wasn’t prepared for extreme cold. The combination of freezing temperatures and no power has left millions in the dark and cold, quite literally.
How did this happen? Texas’s electrical infrastructure — its grid — is managed by the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which says on its website that it provides power to more than 26 million Texans — approximately 90% of the state’s power load. ERCOT wrote in a February 11 statement that, due to cold temperatures, they were anticipating record-higher electricity usage as the coldest weather to hit the state in decades came through.
On Valentine’s Day, ERCOT reported its customers had broken the record for winter peak demand, writing on Twitter that the corporation appreciated people conserving energy. Throughout the day, the ERCOT Twitter account had asked people to refrain from doing laundry, close window blinds, and unplug unused appliances. President Joe Biden declared an emergency for the state.
On February 15, ERCOT announced it had “entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. today.” The utility was load-shedding enough power for millions of customers as a lot of energy generation was offline due to the weather. The result was rolling blackouts, and ERCOT’s statement noted, “Rotating outages will likely last throughout the morning and could be initiated until this weather emergency ends.”
“We needed to step in and make sure that we were not going to end up with Texas in a blackout, which could keep folks without power — not just some people without power, but everyone in our region without power — for much, much longer than we believe this event is going to last, as long and as difficult as this event is right now,” ERCOT CEO Bill Magness told the Dallas News.
As Earther and The Texas Tribune reported, Texas relies in large part on natural gas — both to heat homes and generate electricity — and the state’s infrastructure is prepared for the southwest’s extreme summer heat, but isn’t winterized to withstand current temperatures given that it rarely gets this cold there. Just as the power grid is suffering in the extreme cold, so are people in Texas going without power.
On Wednesday morning, ERCOT wrote that 2.7 million customers were still without power and that they hoped to continue reducing outages. But reports from around the state speak to the gravity of the situation.
A mother and her eight-year-old daughter died in Houston after using a car running in a garage to generate heat, ABC 13 reported. Another adult and another child were also affected by carbon monoxide poisoning. KHOU 11 reported that, in Sugar Land, three children and their grandmother died in a house fire that injured two others; investigators said the family had been without power for eight hours and using a fireplace to keep warm.
Groups like Austin Mutual Aid have been raising funds to help out. And a member of Houston’s Houseless Organizing Coalition told Discourse Blog they’ve tried to motivate people to seek out warming shelters, but many are wary of the police. The group was distributing supplies before the storm hit.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Publicly Owned Utilities Could Help Fight the Climate Crisis