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More Than I Wanted To Learn About. Why Texas Power Failed During Winter Storm Uri 2021 and Whose Fault is It?

So you wanna talk about the Texas electric grid, ERCOT, winter storm Uri of February 2021 and all the crazy I learned about this?

I’m not a journalist, nor do I claim to play one on the internet. What I am is a mom, wife, blogger and Texan who is experiencing rolling blackouts for the last few days.

texas electric winter storm power outages

I know the privilege my family and I carry by having a roof over our head, food in our bellies, warm blankets and electricity for around 20 minutes every hour. We are grateful for what we do have. The empath in me hurts deep knowing that so many others don’t have any electricity. I normally blog more light hearted things (don’t miss our best Texas Winter Memes!) but this was an important topic that I wanted to share about.

Texas Goes Cold

I write this because in 2021, electricity in Texas is being regulated in way that has caused millions to suffer unnecessarily during winter storm Uri.

Just as I hold the leadership of this country responsible for not acting more quickly on Covid-19, there should be blood on the hands of anyone in Texas leadership that knows the atrocities of ERCOT and didn’t act quicker.

Texas Winter Storm Uri 2021

If you are stumbling upon this due to some crazy search, this was written prompted by the Texas winter storm the week of February 14, lasting for the next several days. The winter storm has a name, winter storm Uri.

Temperatures plummeted down to 0 degrees and wind chill to -13. Ice, snow, multiple days with either no power or rolling blackouts effecting MILLIONS of Texans.

texas winter storm 2021

Texas was not built for this. No, this does not happen every winter. After getting frustrated sitting here with spotty internet due to an overused cell network, because we have no power or WIFI and conversations with family about what is happening here in Texas and why – I started digging. Y’all it feels like back in the dial-up days when using this slow internet connection!

Spilling Tea About the Texas Electrical Grid

The tea spilling is not done by me. I’m just a Texan who loves this state and can google.

spilling the tea on texas electricity

While they can take away my electricity, they can’t take away my ability to research ERCOT and learn more about why these rolling blackouts are happening, and why we need to use this catastrophic situation to figure out the best solution for Texas electricity.

Finding Truths

Information shared will all have sources. These are questions that either someone in our family had or something that I saw posted on social media. Here is what I found when researching why the Texas power grid is failing and why these revolving blackouts are happening. It’s fascinating information about ERCOT, it’s leadership, the revenue generated.

Fact Checking Social Media

Spoiler alert, I’m not picking political sides here. Say what you want about Democrats, the Green New Deal and Greg Abbott. These are just fascinating news stories read, tweets tweeted and things learned with sources about the struggles, tragedies, and crazy politics behind the Texas power grid failure.

I fact check social media posts with credible news outlets. I do hope you find this information on ERCOT, Texas electricity and the power grid informational.

What Really Happened to Cause Texas Grid Overload

So what happened? Why are so many Texans without power? As one of those individuals who has been without power and who has been digging for reasons why – I am going to say this. It’s a lot.

There are various rabbit trails to follow and I’m going to to take you down a few of them. This post is really a massive brain dump of everything I’ve consumed trying to wrap my head when trying to figure out how this actually happened.

Seconds and Minutes Away From Texas Power Grid Failure

Update: 2/19/2021 – ERCOT release details stating that the Texas Power Grid was “seconds and minutes” away from failure.

Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months, officials with the entity that operates the grid said Thursday.

As millions of customers throughout the state begin to have power restored after days of massive blackouts, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the power grid that covers most of the state, said Texas was dangerously close to a worst-case scenario: uncontrolled blackouts across the state.

texastribune.org

Cliff Notes on Texas Power Crisis 2021

Here is a Cliff Note’s version of what I have learned:

Texans love their independence, so much so they must control their own energy by not sharing a power grid.

Supply and demand but there is a bigger issue. There is a lot of sweet talk marketing to dumb down the real underlying energy crisis in Texas.

texas power crisis cliff notes

ERCOT is a non-profit and feels like there is a lot of shady underneath (but honestly, with lots of non-profits and government entities, it’s that ways.) While their name is thrown out a lot – their role while significant is just a piece of the puzzle.

So much of Texas government feels bought, especially when it comes to anything getting in the way of oil money. (Looks like green energy needs better lobbyist – I’m kidding, kind of.)

We need to resolve these issues before bigger issues happen and we are stuck weeks without power.

Texas Has It’s Own Power Grid

Before we get into too much nitty gritty, you need to know this. While 73% of the country is covered in snow – why is Texas experiencing the most power outages?

Texas Blackout Memes - Texas is #1 at everything including blackouts

Texas Inner-connection

Did you know there are 3 power grids in the United States? There is an east coast grid (named the Eastern Interconnection), west coast grid (named the Western Interconnection) and then there is Texas. So in the lower 48 states, there are 3 power grids.

texas power grid ercot intercontinental

Here is the deal with the Texas Interconnection or ERCOT Interconnection – it is EXCLUSIVE to Texas. You know how Texans sometimes think Texas is it’s own country, apparently this also applies to how they run their electricity. Texas runs their own electric grid, allowing the Texas utilities to avoid being subjected to most federal rules.

 In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subjected to federal rules. “Freedom from federal regulation was a cherished goal — more so because Texas had no regulation until the 1970s,” writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995 article

star-telegram.com

Does Texas have an independent power grid, and what does that mean?

So we now know Texas has it’s own grid. Now, let’s look at what happened and why millions have been without power for days. And if you want it Texplained, there you go. But why is Texas’ lone power grid a big deal?

Shared Power

If Texas were a normal state and had shared resources, there is a good chances this nearly week of no power and rolling power outages wouldn’t be a thing.

Texas’ state controlled power grid with the promise of deregulation allows private energy companies to take profits.. The pitch to Texans is that we save money on electricity – but do we?

And since private companies are not mandated to winterize their infrastructure, this is the boat we are in. It’s a cold, lonely boat that has companies making money off our energy and a state that isn’t properly overseeing these companies to ensure that no matter the circumstance, Texas is powered.

I have lived in Texas all my life and have always heard “oil stories.” Well folks, the way our electrical infrastructure is setup – I now understand that Texas is LITERALLY ran by oil.

Supply and Demand

The basics are that Texans were told that there is an electric supply and demand issue. Due to the historical winter storms, several power generating sources had gone offline forcing us to need to protect the power grid.

In order to stop a power grid overload, Texans needed to reduce the amount of energy being produced. This is how it was communicated thru ERCOT (more on ERCOT later.)

EEA 1 – February 15, 2021 at 12:17 am

EEA 2 – February 15, 2021 at 1:12 am

EEA 3 – February 15, 2021 at 1:25 am

Rotating outages = you may or may not experience random blackouts.

So, as you can see – that was fast. My theory is between 12:17 am and 1:25 am, was drinking. What else does someone do to go from level EEA 1 to EEA 3 and cause a bunch of crazy?

Blame it on the Weather

So is it as simple as that? Did the weather and the offline power generators cause the Texas grid overload which has left many of us Texans without consistent power for days? Yes and no.

Elevator Pitch

It’s easy to say this: Texas doesn’t have power because of the weather. It doesn’t typically snow, ice and get to freezing temperatures and because of this there is not enough electricity. But the plot thickens.

Saying that the winter storm URI brought unprecedented weather causing failure sounds good in theory but let’s be honest. Us marketing and PR people know that this is an elevator pitch given to ERCOT as an easy digestible answer to a question that so many people want to know the answer to.

The Bigger Problem with Texas Power Distribution

A voice for the people, Judge Clay Jenkins of Dallas county has been aggressively sharing information and following beyond the elevator pitch given to us about why we don’t have power.

texas electric grid

Here is a paraphrase from Judge Clay Jenkin’s Facebook post:

The Texas power problems from winter storm URI stem from two main sources: A lack of winterization packages on generator plants and units and a lack of gas line modernization being required by state leadership.

It’s Not One Entity

ERCOT’s job is to manage the load. The railroad commission’s job is to require a safe, efficient and effective gas delivery system that doesn’t freeze on its way to the gas plants.

Most offline gas plants during this crisis have been off because the gas lines going to their plants are frozen. Some plants are tripping off when they try to start up due to lack of winterization.

When regulators make a knowing decision to not require a safety apparatus, they are telling companies not to spend money on that apparatus because businesses won’t be reimbursed.

Read more from Judge Jenkins via WFAA.

Pandemic and Texas Electric

This energy situation mirrors the pandemic in many ways. When COVID-19 hit, we heard “this has never happened before.” Yes, there were plans in place to deal with a pandemic, but the powers at be thought surely it wouldn’t happen on their watch.

Same here, surely Texas won’t freeze. Yes, it’s a “historical events” but here 2020 is giving us more lessons that if it could happen, chances are it will. This time millions of people are suffering in the cold due to lack of preparation by private companies and the Texas government and entities that failed to regulate.

Who is ERCOT?

If you keep hearing ERCOT and are like, huh? Let’s learn together who this Texas organization is and why they are in the center of this Texas electric issue.

ercot logo 2021

Electric Reliability Council of Texas

ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Ironically, this week – Texas’ electric has been anything but reliable. Let’s dive into the specifics of who is ERCOT?

ERCOT is a Non-Profit

ERCOT is a membership-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, governed by a board of directors and subject to oversight by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature.

ercot Electric Reliability Council of Texas

Its members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers and municipally owned electric utilities.

You can view ERCOT salary amounts of top officials at nonprofitlight.com

What Does ERCOT Do?

According to ERCOT’s Twitter account (@ercot_iso) – ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers — representing 90 percent of the state’s electric load.

Founded in 1970, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is an independent, not-for-profit organization responsible for overseeing the reliable and safe transmission of electricity over the power grid serving most of Texas.

texas ercot powergrid
ERCOT control room – source: wikipedia

ERCOT has four primary responsibilities:

  • Maintain electric system reliability
  • Facilitate a competitive wholesale market
  • Ensure open access to transmission
  • Facilitate a competitive retail market

source: ERCOT press release

ERCOT Manages the Energy Market Does Not Produce Energy

ERCOT is not a market participant and does not own generation or transmission/distribution lines, but it does manage how those resources work together to provide reliable electric service to the citizens of Texas.

So while they work with energy producers, they themselves do not produce the energy.

Read more in this ERCOT PDF on market structure and oversight.

How is ERCOT Funded?

When something big like this happens, questions are immediately asked (rightfully so) – show me the trail and follow the money.

Here is how ERCOT is funded. The PUC, who oversees the organization – has authorized ERCOT to charge the ERCOT System Administration Fee to fund its budget.

Administration Fee

When energy is used, ERCOT changes a fee to market participants based off of the load they serve. Basically, consumers end up paying the ERCOT fee which is 55 cents per megawatt hour. source: Texas Coalition for Affordable Power

The more energy used, the more money ERCOT makes.

View ERCOT public tax records – the latest available are from 2018. ERCOT, the non-profit does well for itself.

Ercot Salaries

With ERCOT being a non-profit entity, the salaries of ERCOT’s top employees are public information.

BOARD MEMBER; PRESIDENT & CEO$814,909
SVP & COO$440,955
SVP, & CIO$399,028
SVP, GENERAL COUNSEL & GOVERNANCE$379,614
VP AND CFO$322,141
VP, HUMAN RESOURCES$311,875
VP, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS & CORP COMM$308,040
VP, COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS$302,965
VP, GRID PLANNING & OPERATIONS$301,464
VP, GOVERNANCE, RISK & COMPLIANCE$277,170
VP, APPLICATION SERVICES & IT OPS$259,192
for more ERCOT salary numbers, visit nonprofitlight.com

ERCOT Board Members

I think I found the ultimate gig. A ERCOT board member who works 8 hours a week and make $101k. It is fascinating how some ERCOT board member salaries are paid while others members aren’t. I couldn’t find any specifics on this but do know with this being public information and I was on the ERCOT board – i’d be side-eyeing my fellow board members.

BOARD MEMBER8 hour worked per week$100,100
BOARD MEMBER15 hour worked per week$99,800
BOARD MEMBER10 hour worked per week$92,600
BOARD MEMBER5 hour worked per week$87,000
BOARD MEMBER8 hour worked per week$65,250
source: nonprofitlight.com

ERCOT Ready for Winter

Well, this press release stating ERCOT was ready for winter didn’t age well. This was released November 5, 2020.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) anticipates there will be sufficient installed generating capacity available to serve system-wide forecasted peak demand this winter and in spring 2021.

ERCOT

Who is Responsible for the Power Grid Failure?

So who ultimately is responsible for the power grid failure? It’s money.

MONEY!

At the end of the day, like most things tragic – if you follow the leads somewhere, somehow the answer is money.

money politics quote richard salsman

I am sure heads will roll at ERCOT with all of the publicity that this and they are getting (let’s not even get into caring about the actual citizens who are personally dealing with the devastation this causes.)

ERCOT has gone so far to take down their Board of Directors page at the time of writing this post.

Stop Pointing Fingers

Texas leadership needs to own up. We can point fingers all day.

texas power outages responsibility
Everyone is pointing fingers over whose fault it is.

Whether it be ERCOT, Public Utility Commission of Texas or Governor Greg Abbott – what happens moving forward must take on overseeing and ensuring at all levels that our grid can deal with extreme climate events. And y’all know what? It’s going to cost money.

Politicians Talk When Fed Money

Money doesn’t just show up. Behind that money is a political game than spans both political parties and then some. Money talks and typically it’s out of the mouths of the politicians’ who are fed it.

The Politics of Electricity in Texas

I never intended to get political (except occasionally with funny memes) on this blog.

texas oil politicians energy ercot 1
Oil and Texas go together like bread and butter.

That said, on the topic of Texas electricity – there is the overarching issue of politics. Getting anything done in government is always a hardship and the majority of the time it is about politics.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

The Texas Governor, Greg Abbott surely can get to the answer, right? But unfortunately, rather than working to find answers – he is using the Texas energy crisis as a political platform.

Governor Abbott is taking heat for his political pandering and finger pointing. Let’s get some answers, sir and figure out the real issues before answering questions that best fit a news outlet’s audience.

Stop, just stop with political pandering. Texas will have it’s oil, but also we rely on other forms of energy. This is not the issue. I know PR is everything, and by the amount of interviews this is proven.

Greg Abbott oil donors have contributed more than $26 million dollars to his campaigns. source: follow the money

JUST IN – Greg Abbott is putting the blame on ERCOT and is seeking information from the organization in an investigation:

texas greb abbott ercot statment investigation
source: Twitter

There are many valid questions to be asked around ERCOT, PUC and others.

Texas Political Ties to Big Oil

So which Texas politicians have ties to big oil and energy? Let’s look at a few outspoken politicians with sources to who they are getting paid by to speak. (Remember, we are in Texas so while I am sure there are many on the left that accept money from big industries and use their sway when voting – Texas currently is red.)

texas oil money politics

I am perfectly aware the tried and true method of profits and politics works thru lobbying and has for years on end. The sad thing is that the dire state of people NOT having electricity is being used as a marketing campaign in an effort to smear green energy.

Personally, I have no personal allegiance to any form of energy, I just want it to produce electricity which my feet are cold so let’s make that happen.

Rick Perry

You would think Rick Perry, being the Trump Administration’s former National Energy Secretary (and former Texas Governor) would have some wise words to say on this.

texas politicians money talks

“Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Gov. Perry said, partly rhetorically. “Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.”

texas politicians oil money energy crisis ercot

Sadly, the other comments are drowned to silence because of a dumb comment like that. source: Houston Chronicle

Rick Perry has accepted millions for his various campaigns over the years from oil and energy industries. If you have accepted money, either disclose before you speak or just not say anything.

Texas Oil Money Talks

Here are Texas politicians using their voice with the money that makes them talk.

texas oil politicians energy ercot

Gizmado did a deep dive into the campaign finances of Dan Crenshaw, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. Notice the down play of alternative energy usage.

Dan Crenshaw

This is Dan Crenshaw tweeting that this is because of wind energy. Maybe before any politician is sworn into office, they must learn how to fact check before speaking (or tweeting – especially tweeting! What you tweet may just comeback to haunt you.)

Ted Cruz

Remember – there is always a tweet. This is one of those tweets come back to haunt you moments. If you would just fact check before typing…

Cancun Cruz

Texas is in the middle of a pandemic, weather and electric crisis. What does the man elected to represent us as a Senator do? Ted Cruz is cold, y’all.

ted cruz in mexico meme
Ted Cruz in Mexico because Texas is cold, ya’ll. View Ted Cruz Cancun memes.

Why work with the minions when he can work from the Ritz Carlton? Ted Cruz headed to Cancun with his family to escape the cold for some heat.

cancun cruz meme
Cancun Cruz

Texas winter happens, millions without power and he jumps on a plane with his family to Cancun. If you are a normal citizen and have the bank to do so – good for you. If you are a leader, you eat last.

But if you are in leadership and what you lead is suffering, you find a way to help. The only way Ted Cruz is helping is if he stays in Cancun forever and leaves government.

Update: February 18, 2021 – I guess Mexico didn’t want him either and he was deported. Okay, maybe not deported…

The Politics of Problems

Working political angles instead of solving problems gets us no where.

This is not a right or left issue, electricity in 2021 is a human issue which should encompass everyone.

In Conclusion

Our power systems must adapt to changing conditions. Texas politics cannot let big oil money and their stubbornness for independence hinder basic human needs. This has been an issue a long time coming. (read: Texas knew for years power grid was at risk but did little about it)

The TX government needs to step up and prepare for future severe weather events or else the Texas electrical system will fail.

be kind meme

Please care about the people. I have had multiple friends without power and now water for days. There are those of us with homes and those without. While I type most of this in the dark, I’m lucky enough to have a heated throw that has a little bit of warmth left from our last power cycle.

This is not just an income issue. This is a human rights issues. And what has happened this past week with poor communication and lack of transparency is inhumane and preventable.

FAQ about ERCOT and Texas Electricity

Here are questions that I’ve asked myself about or that I’ve seen frequently asked about ERCOT. I did the research for you and this is what I learned.

Note: there are a LOT of unanswered questions. I feel like ERCOT will be a name that we may have never heard of before but now will be hearing a lot of.

Is ERCOT owned by China?

I laughed when I read this, but then Googled because if it’s not China – surely it’s Russia, right? NOPE and NOPE, at least – not specifically tied to anything that I found – though, with big money – who knows.

Again, ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas. You would think that this is run by a group of Texans whose best interest is how Texas electricity is managed, right? Well… keep reading.

Who is on ERCOT’s Board of Directors?

Here is a complete list of the ERCOT board members. Well, interesting – I went to pull the link and all board members are no longer showing. Yesterday, after reading the article below this was live. Today – this is showing vacancies. So unless the board members quit, there was some swift editing done to this page.

Now when searching ERCOT’s site, you are redirected here. Theories on why this is, but pretty sure non-profits need to adhere to transparency and not hiding board members.

The last archived page was in May 2020, showing the then ERCOT board members

Austin Statesman learned that 1/3 of ERCOT’s board members don’t live in Texas.

ERCOT is governed by a board of directors that includes representatives from each industry segment (investor-owned utilities, municipally-owned utilities, cooperatives, generators, power marketers and retail electric providers) and each consumer segment (industrial, commercial and residential), plus a handful of unaffiliated or independent members.

In total, the board includes a chair, vice chair and 13 board members, plus eight alternates. Five of those members, including the chairwoman and vice chairman, do not appear to live in Texas.

Is our Texas power outages and power grid issues because of alternative energy (solar and wind)?

Solar and wind are a percentage of what produces power and electric for Texas. Fossil fuels are still the prominent source of fuel for Texas’ grid.

The power outages in Texas are the result of a multitude of things specifically the weather. Ice and snow freeze systems, whether they be transportation of fuel or wind turbines.

Looking at the bigger picture, the real cause of the Texas power outages is the lack of preparation for such a catastrophic event. If 2020 taught us anything, we have to be ready to some extent for “worse case scenarios.” As mentioned above, this is a 2 part issue and the blaming is an elevator pitch to simplify a bigger issue.

This is from CNN about the Texas Power Energy Nightmare.

There are talks that these rolling blackouts and electricity outages are the result of power plants (all types) not winterizing their equipment.

Even though other places with colder weather (like Iowa and Denmark) rely on wind for even larger shares of power, experts said the turbines in Texas were not winterized for the unexpected freeze. Cold weather protection like antifreeze and heating elements within the turbine blades and components are not commonly used in Texas.

So all of your green energy naysayers note, this isn’t all about solar and wind energy. There is more to the story. Not saying green energy is the end all answer, let’s stop pointing fingers when there is a bigger issue at hand.

How can Texas’ grid survive 100 degree summers but not freezing cold temperatures?

Bay News 9 answers this by saying that it all comes down to planning. Texas plans for the crazy summer temperatures.

Because the state expects hot and humid weather during the summer months, ERCOT can plan ahead for supply distribution and avoid rotating blackouts.

Another factor is key here, too: Hot weather does not affect power suppliers to the grid the way this week’s winter storm has impacted those suppliers, throwing them offline and reducing supply, King said.

Did the electric prices increase?

Yes, supply and demand so electricity prices did increase. source: reuters

What does the Texas Public Utility Commission Do vs ERCOT?

The Public Utility Commission of Texas regulates the state’s electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities, implements respective legislation, and offers customer assistance in resolving consumer complaints. source: puc.texas.gov

That said, you can say the public utility commission manages ERCOT. ERCOT then manages the load of electricity.

Something fascinatingly not good is learning that the Texas Public Utility Commission does not regulate municipally-owned electric utilities,

Municipal utilities are governed by a local board or city council. Utility rates and service policies are set by these local entities. Contact your local city council or utility board regarding municipal utilities such as electric and water service. source: puc.texas.gov

What can Texans do about the electric / power issue?

Vote wisely. Elections happen a few times a year (typically May and November) and these local and state government positions matter.

Contact your politicians and tell them that this is a cause that you voted them in for. Keep searching for the facts and share with sources.

While ERCOT is the biggest issue because they control Texas’ energy, if you are having a problem with local electric – reach out the the Texas PUC.

You can file a complaint about an electric provider by reaching out the PUC via phone 888-782-8477 or www.puc.texas.gov.

Feel free to be salty and file a complaint about ERCOT. Since Texas Public Utility Commission regulates ERCOT, both ERCOT and the PUC of Texas should be held accountable for all energy related issues.

What is the government doing about ERCOT?

There are numerous things happening with the government and ERCOT. Here are a few that I found:

Texas Congressman, Joaquin Castro with others are seeking information in how the power outages are now distributed fairly. source: Twitter

Govenor Abbott calls for an investigation of ERCOT and answers to what happened causing 4.4 million Texans to be without power. source: npr.org

Will my electric bill go up?

texas electric bill

Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed that this is accurate.
If you are on a fixed rate contract, your rate will not go up but your bill may be higher because of increased usage – but the rate per kWh will be the same.

If you are on a variable rate and/or Griddy – your rate could potentially go up. So in other words, read your contract and contact your electric company for specifics.

How many people were without power in Texas?

At it’s peak, 4.4 million people were without power. source: NBC

How much wind energy does Texas use?

About 56 percent of Texas’ energy comes from natural gas, just under 24 percent comes from wind, 19 percent from coal, and almost 9 percent from nuclear energy, source: NBC News