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Last week, a massive winter storm crossed the Southern Plains and moved into the Mid-Atlantic states, impacting millions of American households. A combination of cold temperatures, heavy snowfalls, and sleet precipitated a weather-related crisis in Texas. Electrical grid power reserves failed to meet the surging demand, resulting in a power shutdown affecting over 3 million households. The disruption occurred even as unusually frigid conditions resulted in road closures, traffic slowdowns, and sporadic water system failures.

An Energy Crisis

Texas Governor Greg Abbott described the performance of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”) as “unacceptable.” He signed an Executive Order submitting some changes in the grid’s management to the immediate attention of the Texas State Legislature. ERCOT oversees roughly 75% of the state’s electrical power grid. It manages a combination of old and new power sources, including nuclear, natural gas, solar, and wind power generators.

The huge cold system moving across the Lone Star State created a “perfect storm” of adverse weather conditions. Even as the public demand for energy spiked, severe cold temperatures damaged instruments at some facilities. The chill weather also froze unwinterized wind turbines, knocking out an important “green” energy source.

At the same time, low gas pressure impeded the distribution of natural gas. The succession of mishaps led to removing some 185 power generators from the grid, resulting in insufficient power to keep electricity flowing to most customers. City water plants ceased pumping effectively in some metro areas (including Fort Worth and Houston). Officials issued “boil water,” notices to over 210,000 households.

Struggling With a Power Outage

Unfortunately, the storm caught many Texans unprepared. Some residents resorted to the use of unsafe heating sources in desperation. One physician described the influx of over 300 carbon monoxide poisoning cases stemming from these incidents as a “public health disaster.”

Tragically, the storm cost over 24 lives nationwide. A number of these fatalities occurred in Texas. A woman and a child both perished when a household tried to stay warm by turning on a vehicle inside a closed garage. Some 600,000 households enjoyed the restoration of power by Wednesday. However, officials cautioned the public extended power outages might occur elsewhere.