A Snowstorm Reveals Flawed Regulation

Kai Heister, Staff Writer

Beginning on February 10th, 2021, multiple major snowstorms hit Texas, the strongest seen since the 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard. The effects of the most recent snow are still being felt today. Over 4.5 million homes were left without electricity and some still are. At least 82 people have died, whether because of an inability to get food or water, hypothermia from the cold, or carbon monoxide poisoning from trying to heat their homes in dangerous ways. Water services were disrupted or entirely non-operational for more than 12 million people, and some people resorted to collecting water from rivers. Throughout all of Texas, statewide stores could not keep up with the increased demand for food, and ran out of basic items like bread and eggs. Almost 100% of Texas’s orange crop and 16% of its grapefruit crop were lost due to the weather. The overall cost of all the damage done in Texas is over $195 billion. On February 14th, President Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas.

But why did this disaster occur? This snowstorm revealed numerous issues with Texas’s infrastructure. Wind turbines froze and locked up and natural gas pipes froze over and shut off fuel to millions of homes. This, combined with Texas’s citizens turning up their heat and using more power than normal, caused the major outages. Texas power companies failed to winter-proof and monitor their equipment, even when there were signs of trouble before the major outages. Two days before the outages due to the storm, more than 100,000 homes worth of power was suddenly lost, according to The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Texas’s primary grid operator. However, these signs were ignored, and they were ignored for a very unique reason.

Major snowstorms, like the one in Texas, are pretty common in the US. However, one of the reasons the storm made that much of an impact is that Texas failed to keep their major resource management systems up to the federal quality standards set in place. One reason that this was possible is that Texas, which considers itself to be the most independent state in the Union, runs on an entirely independent power grid from the rest of the United States. They privatized their power grid in order to lower electricity costs, to encourage competition between Texan electrical companies, and to give Texan citizens more options for their electricity. The privatization has caused serious problems however, and not just in 2021. After the 2011 Texas snowstorm, around 3 million Americans who used ERCOT were left without electricity. Federal regulators told ERCOT that they should improve their systems for the winter months, but the company did not. 

When asked about Texas’s infrastructural crisis, Rohan Mandayam ’23 said, “I think there could have been more preparation for an event like this and I think the response could have been quicker.” Josephine Wellons ‘23 agreed with him, saying, “I don’t think they did enough, I think they could’ve done more, but I don’t know a lot about it. But it could’ve been handled better.” Mrs. O’Brien, one of the Upper School Chemistry teachers also added, “I think that if we could predict every disaster we would have been prepared for this snowstorm. It was a fluke thing that happens once every ten to twenty years, and most people did the best they could.” When asked, Friends students and staff all agreed that the infrastructure of Texas could have been improved upon earlier, and that it could’ve saved thousands of lives.

Could anything like this happen again in the future or even in different states? The answer is clear; probably not. The power in the winter in almost every other state is much better and more frequently checked than Texas’s. Nothing like this would ever really happen in any other state because of the way their infrastructures are set up. However, in the current political landscape, where the push for privatization of government duties has grown, Texas is a good example about how it can go wrong.