How did the snow in Texas wipe out half the state’s power?
In an unprecedented weather event for the state, there is snow in Texas. While it looks like a winter wonderland for the state, it’s anything but. Texans have been without power since Feb. 15th. However, residents still don’t have power.
It might be insane to think an entire state’s power grid went offline due to a winter storm when we subfreezing temperatures in the northeast and Midwest. But a once in a lifetime winter storm can cause an ill-prepared state to shutter stranding residences without water or power.
There are plenty of reasons as to why the snow wiped out half of Texas’s power. Here is a short explanation of what’s going on in the lone star state and debunking some misinformation spread due to the catastrophe.
Understanding Texas’s power grid
It’s important to understand how Texas gets its power before going into how this happened. Texas is the only state with an independent power grid. According to The Washington Post, The country is divided into three power grids: the Western Interconnection, Eastern Interconnection, Texas, or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Interconnection. About forty border counties aren’t apart of ERCOT.
The other thing to note is the sources of power for Texas. According to ERCOT, about 80% of the grid’s winter capacity comes from thermal energy, gas, coal, and some nuclear energy. Only 7% comes from renewable energy, mostly wind turbines.
Texas independence cost them
Winter storms in other areas of the country like the northeast and Midwest aren’t uncommon. When they hit areas like Green Bay and New England, we don’t see those states’ power grids go down. Well, because Texas’s power grid is independent from the rest of the country, other states can’t easily move power to the state. In addition, Texas can’t request other states to do so.
Oil pipes are freezing
Texas has an independent power grid because they produce so much oil and coal to burn for electricity it doesn’t need help from other states. Power plants rely on a constant flow of oil from the Permian Basin in West Texas to run power plants. Because of this reliance on free-flowing oil to plants, many don’t have large reserves on hand.
According to The Washington Post, the snow in Texas is freezing equipment to mine and pump coal & oil. Plants aren’t getting the resources needed to make energy for the state.
In 2011 Texas faced a similar storm that froze the power grid. According to The Texas Tribune, experts warned state legislators & regulators to “winterize” the state’s power infrastructure but did not heed the warnings. Every part of the state’s power infrastructure could have taken action to prevent freezing, like insulating pipelines.
“Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits,” former director of Public Citizen Tom Smith told The Texas Tribune.
Freezing wind turbines aren’t to blame
If you frequent Fox News, you’ve probably seen Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson tote how Texas’s reliance on renewable energy, mostly wind, is the cause of the power outages. However, it’s not the case. ERCOT doesn’t rely on wind turbines in the winter, and only 25% of Texas’s power comes from renewables.
Like natural gas power plants – which the state relies on for almost 50% of its power – wind turbines can also be “winterize” to operate in cold weather. The state refused to take action after similar storms in 2011 took out a large portion of the state’s power grid.
According to the University of Texas at Austin energy resource professor Micheal Webber, “Texas is a gas state,” and “gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.”
It also doesn’t mean renewable power isn’t worth investing in. Solar panels collect energy from direct & indirect sunlight. The state only gets 2% of its power from solar.