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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Experts warn severe heat wave could leave millions of Texans powerless … again

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“This summer, I am as worried right now [about the grid] as I was coming into this winter,” Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp., an Irving-based power company, said according to the Texas Tribune. “Sounds like I’m the boy that cries wolf, but I’m not. I’ve seen this stuff repeat itself. We can have the same event happen if we don’t fix this.”

As a result of the fear and to improve the grid after February’s outages, Texas residents have been asked to conserve electricity to ensure the supply can keep up with the demand. While the warning was seen to some as a precautionary measure, others used it to question why leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the grid, allowed things to come so close to such emergency conditions. In order to avoid outages, power grids must be in a supply and demand balance at all times.

In its assessment, ERCOT noted three situations that could result in significant power outages: a drought that could leave up to 720,000 homes powerless; the second low solar generation, which would leave 1.5 million homes powerless; and the last and most extreme, a heatwave across the state that would result in a shortage of 14,000 megawatts, leaving 2.8 million homes without electricity.

According to the Texas Tribune, while it’s unlikely that these scenarios will occur, experts are warning people because February’s situation was also considered unlikely. It left more than 4.8 million people powerless.

Texas State Climatologist and Director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies John Nielsen-Gammon noted that climate change and hot temperatures put stress on the grid.

“In 2011, for example, most of the summer was a heat wave,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

“We were in an extreme drought with little moisture available [in 2011],” Nielsen-Gammon continued. “Usually, if you have a heat wave, it’s going to affect at least half the state if not most of it.” 2011 is considered the driest year on record in Texas; however, because of emergency precautions, outages did not occur then.

Experts believe a large portion of the state will have above average temperatures and as a result, Texans should plan for potential outages. ERCOT is already allegedly struggling to maintain power this week, so the fear that a massive power outage may take place should the weather worsen is valid.

“If ERCOT is struggling to keep the lights on this week, that doesn’t bode well for summer,” Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, told the Texas Tribune. “Certainly with climate change, it’s possible we’ll hit new records for heat waves.”

But hope remains as the state is allegedly actively working on addressing its power issues. (They should have begun working on these issues much earlier.) Legislators are working on creating a law that requires natural gas and other companies to have “critical infrastructure.” Prior to this suggestion, no such requirement was in place.

Power outages impact not only electricity but access to everyday necessities, including water and food. In February, millions of Texans lacked access to heat, water, and food amid the outages. During a heatwave, water is essential. Texas representatives and lawmakers must do better for their residents. Another outage could cost more lives. Knowing there’s a possibility that millions could be out of power again for days, the state must step up and be prepared for such emergencies. 


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