The deadly Texas power outages were likely caused by known flaws in a supply system unique to the Lone Star State — and had nothing to do with conspiracies blaming green energy, according to experts.
Unlike the rest of the continental US, Texas is the only state to run its own stand-alone electricity grid — formed because of a distrust of federal interference, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
That means the grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), is not subject to federal oversight — and could not be forced to weatherize before the historic storm that left millions without power.
The unique structure also makes it impossible for most of the Lone Star State to connect to other grids, unlike other states that are able to draw power from elsewhere during a crisis.
“They don’t have the infrastructure connected outside of Texas that might allow them to bring in imports of energy,” a source familiar with ERCOT and electric markets told the Associated Press.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced an investigation into the “anything but reliable” energy company, telling KTRK Houston that his office had warned ERCOT to prepare for the impending storm.
“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” he said.
It was an event with clear precedents, with similar massive blackouts during frozen weather in 2011 and 1989, the Houston Chronicle noted.
After the 2011 storm — which left more than 3 million people without power as the Super Bowl was played outside Dallas — federal energy officials warned ERCOT that Texas power plants had failed to adequately weatherize facilities to protect against cold weather.
A federal report noted that identical warnings went unheeded 22 years before that, too, the paper said.
“We need better insulation and weatherization at facilities and in homes,” Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas, told the paper. “There’s weaknesses in the system we haven’t dealt with.”
As they shivered without power, many Texans started spreading conspiracies that wind turbines and solar energy were to blame.
A photo started going viral as people claimed it showed a “chemical” solution being applied to one of the massive wind generators in Texas — when in fact it was taken in Sweden years ago, the AP said.
The conspiracies were quickly shot down by ERCOT itself, which blamed failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems, not wind turbines and solar panels.
ERCOT said that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources — gas, coal and nuclear plants — and 16,000 came from renewable sources.
While Texas has ramped up wind energy in recent years, it still relies on it for only about 25% of its total electricity, according to ERCOT data.
“Texas is a gas state,” Webber, the Austin professor, told the Texas Tribune. “Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.”
Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, also dismissed the move to blame green energy.
“It’s really natural gas and coal and nuclear that are providing the bulk of the electricity and that’s the bulk of the cause of the blackouts,” Jacobson told the AP.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Energy Reliability Corp. announced a joint inquiry on Tuesday into the operations of the bulk-power system after the outages.
Texas state officials on Tuesday called for hearings on the blackouts.
“The statewide blackouts raise questions about the reliability of our electric grid and its ability to withstand extreme weather events in the future,” said House State Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Paddie.
With Post wires