Life In Texas Is Perilous After Arctic Weather Slams The Region

Feb 17, 2021
Originally published on February 17, 2021 7:37 am

There are still millions of people in Texas without electricity because of the Arctic blast that dipped into the Deep South. An unknown number died and there are more problems in the coming days.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

The situation in Texas is perilous. Millions of people don't have electricity or water. It is very cold. Texas is a large, prosperous state, and yet its power grid just failed. In a few minutes, we'll talk to an infrastructure expert about what went wrong. But first, a few hours ago, I talked to Joey Palacios. He's a reporter with Texas Public Radio. He lives in San Antonio. His power is out. He told me he was wrapped in three blankets. And I asked him how things got so bad.

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: So we have to go back a couple of days because this has been a slow-motion crisis. On Sunday and into Monday, it was snowing in Texas, and that is really rare. The cold weather caused two things to happen - power plants started to fail, and second, the cold caused the demand for electricity to spike. And that reduction in power, combined with the jump in demand, caused the near collapse of the state's energy grid. Now, the grid is run by an organization called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and they're the ones who, in emergency situations like this, force local utilities and the cities to start rolling blackouts to keep from overwhelming the grid.

KING: OK, so the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, not a group that anyone had - most people had heard of before 72 hours ago, they say the grid's about to collapse. We have to cut power to some people. It's worth asking - in a big, prosperous state like Texas, why weren't they out in front of this?

PALACIOS: Well, so everyone had known for several days that Texas was going to be walloped by this winter storm. But it really doesn't seem that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, also known as ERCOT, made sufficient preparations or warned the public how bad it might get. As you mentioned, Noel, ERCOT went from being one of the most obscure organizations in the state to becoming one of the most heavily criticized. They've received so much disdain from the general public right now. For some people, it feels like they may have appeared out of nowhere, but this organization has been around for a long time. And even around 10 years ago, there was a similar rolling blackout crisis, but that one only lasted a few hours.

KING: OK. So the general public, ordinary people, are very upset. What about state leaders? What are they saying to and about this group, about fixing this problem?

PALACIOS: They want answers. Members of the state Legislature want answers. Members of Congress want answers. And people are not happy with Governor Abbott. The governor didn't really say anything public until several hours into the crisis. And right now Abbott has actually asked for an investigation of ERCOT, and he's even made reform of ERCOT an emergency item for the Legislature. And he himself has said that ERCOT has not been very reliable right now.

KING: Joey, just real quick - when have you and others been told that you might get power back?

PALACIOS: It's really going to depend on the weather. I woke up to freezing rain today.

KING: OK.

PALACIOS: So it could be several days before things get back to normal.

KING: Freezing rain in San Antonio. Joey Palacios of Texas Public Radio. Thank you, Joey.

PALACIOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.