Expert says power outages in Texas result of poor planning on multiple levels

HOUSTON – More than 1 million customers in the Houston area are left without power in the coldest stretch of weather in decades. So how did this happen?

Gov. Greg Abbott told KPRC 2 it was a matter of the cold, brutal temperatures.

“The private company providers and generators of that power, their operations totally froze up,” Abbott said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made it clear whom he blames. He posted a Tweet that said, “Neither the City of Houston nor Harris County controls or regulates ERCOT or the power generators. The power outages are the responsibility of the state.”

Who’s correct?

“The ERCOT market design is fatally flawed,” said Ed Hirs, the University of Houston energy fellow. “It was never a matter of if it would fail. The only question was when.”

Hirs is a highly-regarded source on energy markets and distribution who -- in 2013 predicted grid failure would occur in Texas if the market wasn’t redesigned.

Hirs said ERCOT, which acts like an air traffic controller and manages the power grid for 85% of Texas customers, has no mechanism to penalize the companies that actually generate the power. Hirs said those generators typically focus their efforts on the summer months -- when they expect their power plants to have high demand.

Not so in the winter.

“They leave them turned off,” he said. “They’re not winterized, there’s no antifreeze, they’re not oiled, they’re not staffed. They’re not ready to respond in a short term emergency like this.”

As a result, Hirs said the generators had no incentive to ready additional power plants ahead of this arctic blast. With more people continuing to move to our state, Hirs believes the system is unsustainable.

“The solution’s going to be to restructure the entire electricity market for Texas,” he said. “This has been a fool’s errand since it was passed into law 20 years ago. And it just totally needs to be revamped.”

Hirs said the majority of the people without power as a result of the winter storm are victims of a broken system.


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