Texas: TWitter @zanexdaniel

Texas: TWitter @zanexdaniel

Winter storm knocks out power for days, kills 9 in Texas

More than 4 million people at one point were enduring outages in subfreezing temperatures.

By Paul J. Weber And Nomaan Merchant

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

As frozen Texas reels under one of the worst electricity outages in U.S. history, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has blamed grid operators and iced-over wind turbines but gone easier on another culprit: an oil and gas industry that is the state’s dominant business and his biggest political contributor.

And as the toll deepened Thursday from a week of historic winter storms, which have killed at least nine people in Texas, the dogpiling on a power grid that is proudly isolated from the rest of the country ignores warnings known by the state’s GOP leaders for years.

“It’s almost like a murder suspect blaming their right hand for committing the crime,” said Democratic state Rep. James Talarico. His suburban Austin home lost power for 40 hours and had no working faucets Thursday, when roughly 1 in 4 people in Texas woke up under instructions to boil water.

Like most of the state’s 30 million residents, Talarico’s power is controlled by grid managers at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which Abbott again laid into Thursday after more than 4 million people at one point were enduring outages in subfreezing temperatures.

But that is not where the responsibility ends, as power plants that feed the grid were knocked offline by the extreme cold, and natural gas producers didn’t protect wellheads from freezing. “ERCOT is a convenient whipping boy,” Talarico said.

The crisis has put the fossil fuel industry that lavishes the Texas Capitol with money in the crosshairs in ways that Abbott has not had to navigate when steering America’s second-largest state through other disasters, including hurricanes and the ongoing pandemic. For the first time Thursday, Abbott called on Texas to mandate that power plants be winterized.

Oil and gas built and enriched Texas, and with that its politicians, including those who became president. But none has reaped campaign contributions on the scale of Abbott, who in six years in office has raised more than $150 million from donors, more than any governor in U.S. history.

READ MORE: Grand jury rejects charges against officer in Atlanta teen’s death

Texas’ energy interests are the biggest backers of his political rise, and he has not ruled out a White House run in 2024. More than $26 million of his contributions have come from the oil and gas industry, more than any other economic sector, according to an analysis by the National Institute on Money in Politics.

As Texas’ grid first began buckling early Monday, Abbott drew overnight backlash after going on Fox News and laying fault on solar and wind producers, at a time when natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages.

Pressed on those comments later, Abbott took a softer tone and acknowledged every source of power had been compromised. But he accused ERCOT of misleading the public with messages that the grid was ready for the storm.

“It’s especially unacceptable when you realize what ERCOT told the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission, whose three members are appointed by Abbott. While ERCOT manages most of Texas’ power grid, the commission and the Texas Legislature make key policy decisions that have factored into the ongoing crisis.

After the state’s last major freeze, during the 2011 Super Bowl held in Arlington, Texas, a federal analysis found that energy producers’ procedures for winterizing their equipment “were either inadequate or were not adequately followed” in many cases. The report repeatedly cites another Texas freeze, in 1989, as a clear warning.

Girding power generators against fierce winter weather is essential in colder climates. In Iowa, where wind farms supply 40% of the state’s electricity, windmills have been turning all week despite temperatures that dropped to minus 17 degrees in Des Moines. In Texas, grid officials say they can’t speak for why power generators here don’t do the same.

A decade ago, the report on the last Texas failure lists a number of ways to winterize an oil well or a natural gas device and the estimated costs: installing a cold-weather production unit ($23,000), collecting gas vented from an injection pump to supply a heater ($675), or building a fiberglass hut to enclose the production equipment ($1,500).

Winterizing 50,000 wells — just under a third of the number of total natural gas wells active in Texas — was estimated in 2011 to cost as much as $1.75 billion, a figure that would almost certainly be higher today due to inflation. By comparison, the Texas oil and natural gas industry paid $13.9 billion in taxes and royalties last year alone, according to figures from the Texas Oil & Gas Association.

Republican Ryan Sitton, the former commissioner of the peculiarly named Texas Railroad Commission that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, said an issue with bolstering power plants is the cost passed on to electric customers. Of Abbott’s focus on ERCOT, Sitton said, “Calling for an investigation is easy. Actually performing a good investigation and taking ownership of the results is where the rubber meets the road.”

He said oil and gas interests, which generously funded his own political campaigns, don’t hold the sway the public imagines.

“They make donations, sure. But unless the entire energy is speaking with a unified voice, which almost never happens, there’s not that much influence,” Sitton said.

READ MORE: U.S. lawyer accused of smuggling guns across Osoyoos border goes to trial this fall

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Snow

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A judge has found an Edmonton woman guilty of manslaughter in the death of her five-year-old daughter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of 5-year-old girl

The woman was charged and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and assault with weapons, including a belt and a spatula

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 2,042 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Jason Kenney urges federal government to push U.S. for surplus COVID-19 vaccines

‘It makes no sense for our neighbours and regional states to be sitting on doses that we cannot use,’ the premier said

Alberta reported an additional 1,980 cases of COVID-19 Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer adds 37th death from COVID-19, active cases drop

Alberta Health identified an additional 1,980 cases of the virus province-wide

Manluk Centre: Wetaskiwin Regional Aquatics and Fitness will be closed to the public until further notice beginning May 10, 2021. Image/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Manluk Centre to close following new provincial restrictions

The Manluk Centre will be closed to the public until further notice beginning May 10, 2021.

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)
Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Big truck semi trailer moves on the highway towards sunset
Alberta’s cross-border truckers to be vaccinated at Montana rest stop

2,000 Alberta truck drivers who transport goods across the border will be able to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Montana

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hospital investigating whether Alberta woman who died after AstraZeneca shot was turned away

Woman was taken off life support 12 days after getting vaccine

Most Read