Huge storms which swept the USA caused devastating power outages in mid-February.

The storms left Texans without heat, electricity and running water forcing many to rely on family, friends and food banks. It has resulted in multiple fatalities, although the exact number is still unknown.

Questions are being asked about how this level of ill-preparedness could happen and various underlying issues have been uncovered in the aftermath.


The problem with deregulation

Most of Texas has its own power grid called ERCOT, formed in 1970. Because of this, it is legally exempt from meeting federal regulations laid out in the Federal Power Act. However, it has now been accused of huge oversights in its responsibilities relating to weatherproofing. Dan Woodfin, one of the senior directors at ERCOT, admitted that they only virtually inspected 94 out of the 600 generators. This is criminally neglectful, particularly when the Weather Prediction Centre warned of exceptionally low temperatures to come. They also refused to answer questions about their lack of adequate reliability standards and reserve margins.

ERCOT should have held its hands up and acknowledged that this wasn’t just an incident of freak weather. The organisation’s failure to carry out weatherproofing safeguards makes it at least partially responsible for the fatal disaster that killed an 11-year-old boy from suspected hyperthermia, amongst many others. This tragedy is a clear sign that this is the time for a conversation about energy policies and deregulation. However, ERCOT has tried to sweep the incident under the rug, claiming that weather conditions couldn’t have been predicted — a poor excuse at best.

Energy bills skyrocket

Following on from the initial problems, there was much news coverage surrounding extortionate energy bills. One of the energy companies accused by consumers was Griddy. The company has released a statement, explaining that it is the Public Commission Utility of Texas who are to blame.

‘As of … Thursday, 99% of homes have their power restored …Yet, the PUCT … continued to force prices to $9/kWh, approximately 300x higher than the normal wholesale price’.

The PUCT did respond by explaining that in the deregulated parts of Texas consumers can choose their retail electric provider (REP). The high wholesale prices are used as a penalty for wholesale buyers e.g., REP’s or generators who fail to purchase enough power in advance. Therefore, the only customers who receive these high bills are the ones who have chosen a contract indexed at those prices.

It’s interesting that this doesn’t explain why PUCT changed the rules, allowing prices to remain high even after there was enough energy being produced. People have been freezing to death in their homes, meanwhile, those who own the means of electricity production are trying to squeeze every possible cent they can to profit from their misery. Regardless of who is to blame, now is certainly not the time to be applying further financial pressure on those who are just trying to survive.

The blame game

To add insult to injury, in the initial few days the now ex-mayor of Texas, Tim Boyd, posted a scathing criticism of the people of Texas for expecting help from the authorities. In a now-deleted post he said:

‘The City and County, along with power providers or any other services owe you NOTHING … if you have no water you deal without … Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout!’

This typical Republican response not only shows an inhumane lack of compassion but equally, an unprofessional man who is unfit for public office.

In another attempt to deflect accusations, numerous Republican politicians repeatedly blamed wind turbines for the power outage despite the fact that the claims proved to be untrue. Governor Rick Perry, former US Secretary of Energy, argued that these events should make people reconsider future plans to incorporate more renewable energy sources. The Republicans are using false information to bash Democrat policies despite the lack of correlation between wind turbines and the power outage.

This is a crisis within a crisis for the people of Texas. Global events this past year have created financial hardships for many. This emergency is not just threatening people’s health but their finances too.

The events have temporarily disrupted the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, but this is now thankfully beginning to pick up. In small ways, Texas is beginning to return to normality. Despite this, people’s homes have been destroyed and some have lost their loved ones.

The issues surrounding government accountability and deregulation that have been exposed must continue to be discussed. As the media spotlight fades, the long-term consequences and enduring questions mustn’t be ignored.