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Even mighty Texas, the energy powerhouse of America, is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature.
A deep freeze this week in the Lone Star state, which relies on electricity to heat many homes, is causing power demand to skyrocket. At the same time, natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities in Texas have been knocked offline by the unthinkably low temperatures.
This situation could have wide-reaching implications as the US power industry attempts to slash carbon emissions in response to the climate crisis.
That nightmarish supply-demand situation has sent electricity prices in energy-rich Texas to skyrocket more than 10,000% compared with before the unprecedented temperatures hit. Texas has been hit with life-threatening blackouts. More than 4 million people in the state were without power early Tuesday.
In response, Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, which controls most of the state's grid. The group's CEO on Tuesday defended the controlled outages, saying they "kept the grid from collapsing" and sending the state into a complete blackout.
Nine times Dallas has recorded daily snowfalls of 4 inches or more since 1940, but this week’s may be the first to be attributed to man-made climate change.
You ask, How do we know climate change is responsible? Answer: Shut up, denier.
Likewise because the weather inflicted painful blackouts on millions of voters, politicians hinted that market manipulation by energy traders may play a role. These manipulators will never be found. But shut up about that too.
Folks in the Northeast accustomed to weeklong outages may be surprised when Texans mostly have their power back in hours. Hundreds of downed power lines aren’t the problem as they are elsewhere. Texas winter blackouts come wholesale when generating plants trip offline due to conditions that will quickly be remedied when temperatures return to the 50s and 60s this weekend.
Winter Storm Uri chilled large areas of the western, central, and southern US over the weekend, straining the power grid in some places so badly that millions of Americans have had to go without power in temperatures below freezing.
The National Weather Service on Monday reported that 150 million Americans were under various winter storm warnings, with heavy snow and ice still likely to sweep from the southern Plains, to the Ohio Valley, to the Northeast.
Thousands of utility customers in states like Louisiana and Mississippi suffered blackouts as ice knocked out power lines.
Texans, however, may be shivering more than others, with some of the coldest temperatures in 30 years, and some of the biggest power grid problems. More than 4.2 million customers had lost power as of Tuesday morning, when temperatures dipped as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit — lower than Anchorage, Alaska — in cities like Dallas. Flights were canceled out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved a state of emergency declaration for Texas following a request from Gov. Greg Abbott.
For residents of the Lone Star State, the problem stems from both a record spike in electricity demand in a place that rarely gets this cold, as well as an unexpected drop in the supply of energy from natural gas, coal, wind, nuclear, and solar sources besieged by cold and ice.
This combination of shortfalls has forced power grid operators to conduct rolling blackouts, where power is shut off to different areas for a limited period of time. Local utilities are asking customers to conserve power and set their thermostats lower. For some customers, these blackouts aren’t rolling, instead stretching on for an unknown duration. On Tuesday afternoon, grid operators told Texas legislators that outages could last for days and that they weren’t sure when the power outages would end.
The image of energy-rich Texas is under challenge as a historic polar vortex slows or shuts down power sources like wind and natural gas.