What’s the future of the Texas energy grid?

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 10:32 AM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - After a disastrous energy crisis in the Lone Star State, officials and lawmakers are discussing ways to make sure it does not happen again.

An unusual icy blast two weeks ago left millions of Texans in the dark in sub-freezing temperatures without access to potable water. The winter weather caused billions of dollars in water damage, according to experts.

“It’s frustrating,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX), who also dealt with power and water outages. “I think we’re all surprised at what’s happened.”

Texas lawmakers like Williams are demanding answers from the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, who manages the flow of electricity. ERCOT tried to keep up with the unprecedented demand for power and heat during the arctic chill, even warning customers about rolling blackouts. But when power plants started going offline, the power never came back on for millions.

ERCOT officials say they are investigating what happened, and admit all energy sources like natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear had challenges. The failure puts the debate on the grid’s future front and center.

“We believe renewables are the future, they are reliable, they are affordable,” said Heather Zichal, CEO of trade association American Clean Power. “We can build a zero-pollution electric power grid.”

Zichal said officials should implement more innovative grid technology and use battery energy storage systems to replace old, outdated equipment and prepare for extreme weather events.

Meanwhile, University of Houston Energy Fellow Ed Hirs proposes a complete overhaul of the grid, a regulated market where utility companies control the total flow of electricity. He has been sounding the alarm about the grid’s reliability for a decade. Hirs said the power companies need financial incentive to keep all their equipment prepared year-round, not just during the steamy summer months. In this model, prices would rise for customers, but he said it would be worth the extra cost.

“For those who have lost family member, what’s the price there? For the medical centers that went down, for the automobile wrecks while the lights went out,” Hirs said.

The Texas House State Affairs and Energy Resources Committee met last week to examine the crisis further. In Washington, a bipartisan group of senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee have called for a hearing to talk about the reliability and affordability of the grid. There is no date set yet for the hearing.

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