Turner testifies on Capitol Hill about power grid failure during winter storm

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner went before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee to testify as a witness for a hearing about the power grid failures that happened during last month’s winter storm.

The hearing, called by U.S. Rep Lizzie Fletcher (D-Houston), will take a look at the statewide failures during the storm.

A spokesperson for Fletcher said Turner’s position of leadership and first-hand experience and background during the crisis is why he was chosen as a witness.

Other witnesses will include former Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness and Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick.

Turner, a former member of the state House of Representatives, said the state had ignored climate change warnings about the grid and missed opportunities to fortify the grid against the threat of extreme weather. Magness said one obvious improvement state officials are examining is how to better alert the public once a grid’s failure becomes a public safety issue because currently such a widespread public warning system is “well beyond the communications capabilities this company has.”

From the natural gas wellheads in West Texas to the power plants that burn gas to generate electricity to the companies that deliver power to Texans, multiple systems failed during the storm and made what should have been a mild inconvenience into a statewide crisis, executives, regulators, lawmakers and experts said. Yet politically powerful natural gas companies, along with their regulators, have largely escaped the wrath of Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature.

At least 57 people died during the winter storm that plunged large swaths of Texas into subfreezing temperatures and overwhelmed the state’s electricity infrastructure, causing massive power outages. At the height of the crisis, nearly 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses were without power. That’s because nearly half of the total power generation capacity for the main state electricity grid was offline as weather conditions caused failures in every type of power source: natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear. Millions of Texans went days without power.

Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies, who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market. Dozens of natural gas companies failed to do the paperwork that would have kept their facilities powered during an emergency, so utilities last month cut their electricity at the very moment that power plants most needed fuel.

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