By Samantha Perez
In mid-February, Texas was hit by a powerful snowstorm, which left millions without power for hours and even days. Though snow in Northern Texas is not uncommon, more southern cities like Houston and San Antonio were not equipped to handle a snowstorm like this one. Many homes were destroyed by frozen pipe explosions, residents went more than three days without electricity or heating and dozens of people died either from hypothermia or complications due to the loss of electricity. Many blame Texas Governor Greg Abbott for the failing power grid, while others blame the U.S. government’s failure at large to address the climate change issues that caused the snowstorm to happen in the first place.
Texas’ Power Grid and its Issues
Texas is known for its cheap and effective energy, mainly because its power grid is separate from the rest of the country. It works as follows: Abbott appoints a Public Utility Commission (PUC), which regulates the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the entirety of the state’s power grid. The electricity is provided by 567 electricity generators, which sell power to 127 retail electric providers and sends power to 85 transmission companies. The retail providers and transmission companies finally distribute the power to 12.6 million Texas consumers.
As efficient as this may sound, power failure was caused by the overdemand of electricity by Texans during the snowstorm for utilities like indoor heating. When managers of the grid realized they did not have enough power to meet demands, they began initiating “rolling” blackouts. These excessively long blackouts were not “rolling” in 45-minute intervals as they were supposed to because the Texas power grid was not prepared for the demands received by freezing residents.
Why couldn’t the Texas power grid generate enough electricity? A known trait of the Lone Star State is the heat, which can easily surpass 100℉ on a summer day. On average, Texans demand over 70,000 megawatts of power for air conditioning. However, when it came time for the use of power for indoor heating, the grid could only supply 40,000 megawatts of power. According to Abbott, this occurred because “our wind and our solar [energy] got shut down, and they were collectively more than ten percent of our power grid.” In his interview with Fox News, he later said that “fossil fuel is necessary” and that the Green New Deal could never work. These claims are patently untrue.
An ERCOT senior director revealed that, although wind energy underperformed, solar power completely overshot it. He disclosed that the Texas grid collapsed mainly because an estimated 28,000 megawatts of coal, nuclear, and gas power—the leading fossil fuels—went offline, which is about a third of ERCOT’s total capacity. ERCOT failed because fossil fuels failed—natural gas in particular.
The excessive burning of fossil fuels is the culprit for worldwide climate change. Nearly fifteen billion metric tons of fossil fuels are consumed each year, the United States being responsible for over two billion metric tons. So when we look at the Texas power grid, not only have fossil fuels proven their unreliability, but it also shines a spotlight on green (renewable) energy, like wind and solar power. In July 2017, a reliability draft-study concluded that resiliency and reliability of renewable energy is not an issue, with industry professionals and grid operators in agreement. In fact, renewable energy generates more power than is used while producing fewer emissions. When Abbott and other anti-green energy Republicans praise fossil fuels and treat the talk on green energy as a political punching bag, it influences voters who are not savvy on the reality of fossil fuels and climate change to accept nonrenewable energy as a primary power source.
The facts are this: the global carbon budget is 1.5C. If global emissions peaked in the year 2000, then a 3% annual reduction in the use of carbon emissions would have been enough to stay below 1.5C. However, this did not happen, and instead emissions have increased every year. If emissions fail to drop, then the 1.5C budget will be used up within seven years, causing catastrophic and abnormal climate events, like the Texas snowstorm, to continue occurring.
As a Houston resident, I myself went without power for over 24 hours, four days without school, and a full week of worrying whether or not our power will turn off for longer or if my house will flood due to frozen pipes bursting. I’ve also had to sit and watch as people in my community did suffer from flooded houses and no power for over four days and read on the news that people not even an hour away from me were losing their lives due to hypothermia or complications caused by loss of electricity. A state that is known for its power efficiency, much less a nation that takes pride in its technological and scientific advancements, should not have failed the way we did in February. As we continue to read on climate change and watch how our politicians handle the matter, it's important to know that the state of our climate’s health is declining, and with it so will ours.