Texas’ power grid still struggles to produce enough electricity

By: Nicholas Ratcliff

Multimedia Journalist

In February of 2021, many of Texas’s citizens were forced to live without power and heat during a recording-breaking freeze. During this time, more than 4.5 million homes and businesses were forced to go without power for several days, resulting in the loss of 151 lives.

While many of the state’s elected officials quickly tried to point the blame on frozen wind turbines, the true cause of the power outage was due to inadequately prepared natural gas equipment that couldn’t handle the freeze.

Photo courtesy of https://www.bryantelectricservice.com.

Texas is on its own independent power grid known as the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which made it extremely difficult for the two other large power grids within the United States to import electricity during a shortage. ERCOT handles 85 percent of the state’s power needs, producing and distributing electricity to 23 million people. This disaster ended up costing the state of Texas 195 billion dollars making it the costliest disaster in Texas history.

This map outlines the power grids over Texas.
Photo courtesy of Austin County News.

During the following months after the power grid failed, the Texas legislator had a chance to meet and decided to pass Senate Bills 2 and 3 which were designed to address some of the know issues that caused the outage to begin with.

Senate Bill 2 gives the government more power over the members of ERCOT’s board of directors by allowing them to appoint eight out of the eleven seats on that council. The other three appointments will be handled directly by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house. 

Senate Bill 3 requires power generation companies to winterize their equipment so they will be able to handle harsher weather in the future. The house originally passed this bill and allotted 2 billion dollars from the state’s rainy day fund to help these companies pay for some of the upgrades they needed. This portion of the bill stalled in the state’s senate however and was not included in the bill that passed.

Both of these bills were approved by Gov. Greg Abbott after the legislator session had ended, yet as Texas approaches its hotter months, the power grid is once again struggling to keep up.

According to USA Today, Brandon English, a resident of Houston Texas, had his smart thermostat remotely turned up while his family was sleeping.

English explained his situation stating, “My wife had it cranked it [the ac] down at 2:30.”

English’s wife then laid their daughters down for a nap before taking one herself. When they woke up, the house was 78 degrees and had been set to an even higher temperature without anyone touching the thermostat.

Soon after waking up, English’s wife had received a message from their power company stating that their thermometer had been changed remotely during a three-hour power saving event. Their power company was allowed to do this due to a program called “Smart Savers Texas” which allows power companies such as EnergyHub to change your thermostat to save power in exchange for them entering you into sweepstakes.

English goes on to say, “I wouldn’t want anybody else controlling my things for me, if somebody else can manipulate this, I’m not for it.”

Even though the state legislator and governor have approved two bills to address Texas’ power struggle sense the devastating power outages in February, experts have stated that these steps will not be implemented until 2022.

Until the changes are made, ERCOT is urging its users to limit the amount of power they are using as Texans prepare to face one of their hottest summers in history.

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