Texas and Wide Regions of the U.S. Suffer Extensive Power Outages and Related Losses Due to Unprecedented Winter Storms
ERCOT and FERC to Investigate Power System Reliability Issues
As reported extensively by the Washington Post, an unprecedented frigid, icy cold front and series of winter storms across the central and Eastern U.S. from Texas to New England caused power outages for some four million in Texas, some for over 24 hours, causing at least 14 fatalities across four states and numerous injuries.
The extended cold and high power demand caused power outages across the Plains and many Midwestern states. On Tuesday the cities Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City reported experiencing the lowest temperatures since at least 1989 and issued further winter and ice storm warnings for coming days. Forecasts for a second severe storm bearing snow, ice and freezing temperatures is threatening Texas and the Central and Southern U.S., the Midwest, Tennessee Valley and the East Coast. The severe weather and subzero temperatures, including temperature readings of some 50 degrees below average, are reported to be due to a disrupted polar vortex that shifted the cold Artic air, patterns which occur repeatedly across winter seasons.
The lack of backup power caused enormous losses. Not only were households without power, but Texan dairy farms were shut down losing $800,000 per day of spilt milk, alongside stopped feed mills for poultry and dairy farms leaving animals cold and hungry. Moreover, with Co-vid still in full force, in Oklahoma the Department of Emergency Management, Homeland Security Office and Department of Health are organizing generators for backup power to maintain refrigeration for vaccines.
As the electricity grid in Texas failed to meet the record high demand, the Governor of Texas has demanded accountability and a reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid operator. At the same time, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called for an investigation of the outages in Texas and the Midwest. Prioritizing reform of ERCOT as an emergency item for this legislative session, Texas Gov. Abbott will work with state legislators to “ensure that (the) state never experiences power outages like this again.”
Critics said that there are no incentives for utilities to prepare for emergencies, instead prioritizing low prices over reliable service. During the outages the price of electricity in Houston soared from $22 per mWh to some $9000. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other regulatory agencies have opened an investigation into the performance issues of the bulk-power systems during the extreme winter weather.
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