Texas Grid Reform Falls Short

June 2, 2021

In Texas, new analysis of fatalities from the disastrous Valentine’s Day Blackout of the past winter show sharply increased estimates of the total.

Again, if you have not seen the summary of expert analysis and news reporting above on the event, hope you will review, share and bookmark.

Death toll from the event has been substantially raised in recent review of “excess fatalities” during the period.

KUT:

While Texas officials have confirmed that 151 deaths were related to the freeze in February, the death toll could actually be four or five times higher, according to a BuzzFeed data review.

Using mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BuzzFeed said it compared the number of deaths from all causes that were reported in Texas during and after the storm with the number of fatalities that are normally reported during ordinary conditions. That method is known as “excess fatalities” and has been employed during other disasters, like the COVID-19 pandemic, to estimate related death tolls.

“Our analysis, reviewed by three independent experts, suggests that between 426 and 978 more people than expected died in Texas in the week ending February 20 alone,” the BuzzFeed report says. “Our best estimate is that 702 people were killed by the storm that week. Even the lowest end of the range is almost three times the number officials have acknowledged. Neighboring states that were hit hard by the winter storm but did not experience the widespread power outages seen in Texas did not show a spike in deaths.”

The victims included medically vulnerable people with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney problems, BuzzFeed said.

Chief problems in creating the blackout were the freeze-up of natural gas pipelines from west Texas wells, which crimped supplies just as demand was spiking, in addition to frozen pipes and equipment at the power plants, primarily fossil gas, but also coal and nuclear.

New legislation has some requirements for weatherizing power plants, but does little to force the gas industry to upgrade its distribution system, leaving the grid still dangerously vulnerable in another freeze.

Houston Chronicle:

The proposals address several longstanding weaknesses, though still amount to a gamble in the wake of one of the state’s deadliest natural disasters, leaving its already isolated power grid vulnerable to similar disruptions for the coming winter, before key weatherization requirements would take effect.

Energy experts have warned that without quick structural improvements to power plants, gas wells and the supply chain that connects them, millions of Texas homes could again be without power in dangerously frigid conditions. February’s storm knocked out power to an estimated 4.5 million homes and killed at least 200 people — and likely many more.

Critics also caution that the final provisions leave broad discretion to gas suppliers, who provide most of the fuel for the electricity grid. The legislation allows for minimal fines against those that don’t comply and leaves oversight of infrastructure updates to the Texas Railroad Commission, whose members receive funding from the industry and have long opposed weather requirements.

The state’s gas production fell more than 20 percent over five days during the storm.

This month, Republicans in the House rejected amendments from Democrats that would have increased penalties for gas suppliers that don’t winterize and would have required progress on winterization within six months of the measure becoming law. Democrats still praised the reforms that made it into the final draft.

“I voted for this bill because there is a lot of good in it,” Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat and engineer in the oil and gas industry, tweeted shortly after the vote. “But make no mistake – this bill is not enough to ensure that we won’t have another massive blackout. It leaves much discretion to RRC/PUC/ERCOT and the guardrails aren’t nearly tight enough.”

Gas producers testified in hearings that they recognize the need to equip their operations and that mandates to do so are unnecessary. Disruptions in the gas supply were among the earliest and most significant causes of the February blackouts.

In a series of measures, the Legislature also backed nearly $9 billion in ratepayer-funded debt payments to electric and gas providers, some of which were financially wrecked by the weeklong storm and crippling blackouts. Those fees would show up on monthly residential utility bills for the next 20 to 30 years.

3 Responses to “Texas Grid Reform Falls Short”

  1. jimbills Says:

    “This month, Republicans in the House rejected amendments from Democrats that would have increased penalties for gas suppliers that don’t winterize and would have required progress on winterization within six months of the measure becoming law.”

    An important point is that the penalties are ridiculously low for an oil and gas company. It will be far cheaper for them to pay the penalty (as low as $5K/day) than pay the costs to winterize.

    https://www.npr.org/2021/06/02/1002277720/texas-lawmakers-passed-changes-to-prevent-more-blackouts-experts-say-its-not-eno

    ‘”$5,000 for a big oil and gas company, to say it’s a rounding error is probably an overstatement,” says Doug Lewin, president of the consulting firm Stoic Climate and Energy.

    After the blackout, analysts at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said one simple way to build resilience into the natural gas supply chain would be to mandate weatherization of new gas wells built in Texas.

    Lewin points out that the legislature failed to act on that recommendation.’

    On the plus side, the bill to penalize renewables over FF failed in the House after passing the Texas Senate.

    An article from Vox yesterday gives an idea of how much impact the FF industry has on Texas (and the world), and the complexities of addressing it:
    https://www.vox.com/22407581/gas-texas-biden-climate-change-methane-permian-basin

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Everybody who’s surprised by this please stand on your head.


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