Texas Winter Storm and Power Outage Left 57 Dead, Most from Hypothermia
The recent winter storm and resulting power outage tragically killed 57 people across Texas, with the majority of deaths caused by hypothermia.
According to the state Department of Health, the remaining verified fatalities resulted from motor vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, medical equipment failure, falls, and fire.
The largest number of deaths – 25 – were reported in Harris County.
ERCOT Failures Blamed for Texas Power Outage
Last month’s winter storm brought sub-freezing temperatures to much of Texas. As residents began cranking up their heat to stay warm, the state’s unregulated power grid could not keep pace with demand, leaving millions of Texans freezing in the dark for days.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is responsible for overseeing Texas’ wholesale energy market. In the weeks since the storm, it’s become clear that the non-profit agency’s failure to meet that responsibility was directly to blame for the state’s deadly power outages.
For one thing, ERCOT has long refused to enforce a “reserve margin” of extra power available above expected demand. As a result, the Texas energy grid was unable to meet demand during the February storm. The agency also doesn’t require that private power companies weatherize their equipment. Without such precautions in place, much of the state’s energy infrastructure froze in the cold and was unable to deliver what little power there was.
Six members of the ERCOT board and two members of the Texas Public Utility Commission have since resigned. The CEO of ERCOT was also fired over the agency’s failure to prepare for the storm.
Can Texas Prevent Another Deadly Blackout?
Texas lawmakers have proposed a range of possible fixes to prevent a repeat of last month’s deadly power outage, including weatherizing the state’s power infrastructure against extreme weather, creating a statewide alert system for severe weather events, and improving communication between state agencies to better coordinate during natural disasters.
The Texas State Senate recently passed a bill to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the winter storm. According to The Texas Tribune, an independent market monitor recently estimated that ERCOT overbilled power companies by $16 billion around the time of the winter storm.
So far, it’s unclear if the bill will make it through the Texas State House or if the Governor would be willing to sign it into law.
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