We asked San Antonio, Bexar County officials what went wrong and needs to change after winter disaster

Bexar County Commissioners, San Antonio City Council agree deregulation by state was partially to blame

What local officials think about the Texas winter storm disaster

SAN ANTONIO – One month ago, Texas was in the middle of a brutal winter storm that left millions of homeowners struggling to find warmth without power and water as the snowstorm knocked power generators offline.

Though Texas avoided a catastrophic monthslong blackout by the forced outages implemented by the state’s power grid — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — an untold number of people died in the storm and the vast property damage reported due to busted pipes led to a major disaster declaration approved by President Joe Biden.

Recommended Videos

Some people went without power or water for weeks, particularly in rural areas.

As local and statewide lawmakers begin to dissect what went wrong during the winter storm, KSAT 12 News sent a questionnaire to every San Antonio City Council member and Bexar County commissioners, asking three questions about what mistakes were made and what needs to be done to prevent a disaster like this one from occurring again.

The mayor and all 10 council seats are up for election in May. (More on that here.)

The local officials were given two weeks to issue their responses, which are provided in full below.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“Better communication. Lack of timely information from CPS Energy, ERCOT and the Texas Public Utility Commission left us unprepared for the black out of electrical power.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake? Why or why not?

“Yes. Deregulation led to puts profits first and reliability second. There is no incentive to weatherize or provide back-up power. I sent letter to Governor and other state leaders on February 19 urging a returned to a regulated market that protects our citizens.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“As long as ERCOT can strip our electrical power as they did by reducing our capacity by 20%, we will continue to be vulnerable. We can ameliorate that by weatherizing our plants and establishing a decentralized system that includes power battery storage and generators.”

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“ERCOT, the manager of the state energy grid, forced CPS Energy to shed load during the long freeze event, which was the root cause of the outages in our community. However, we will be taking an in-depth look at the preparation and response to the emergency -- including the actions of CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System -- to find ways that we can be better prepared. I am particularly interested in learning what we must do to winterize our generation plants. Additionally, we will take a hard look at communications and how we can better inform the public during extreme events. We must also examine backup generators for water pumping stations.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake? Why or why not?

“As a municipal power company, CPS Energy was not part of the state’s deregulation move in the 1990s, and undoubtedly, the City of San Antonio and ratepayers have benefitted from the regulated environment.

“I believe the Legislature should make reforms to the system that guarantee Texans have adequate energy capacity during extreme weather events. The current structure of the market does not place a priority on ensuring enough capacity is available in the Texas grid.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“While many of the factors that triggered the devastating electrical and water outages in our community were not within our control, San Antonians want answers about what happened, and they deserve them. They also deserve answers about how such outages can be prevented in the future.

“I have appointed the Select Committee on the 2021 Winter Storm Preparedness and Response to thoroughly examine what happened with CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System during the February storm and why.

“The committee will study what can be done to prevent mass power and water outages in the future and offer recommendations for preventing repeat incidents.

“Former City Councilman Reed Williams is serving as chairman of the committee. Former Texas Bar Association President Lisa Tatum and Ret. Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr. also have agreed to serve on the panel. Along with Councilmembers Adriana Rocha Garcia, Ana Sandoval, Manny Pelaez, and Clayton Perry.

“I have asked the committee to do its work as comprehensively and quickly as possible. I look forward to the answers that this process will provide and the actions that will enable San Antonio to weather future crises.

“While we are examining our performance locally, we must push for remedies at the state level as well.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores did not respond despite multiple requests.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez

Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez did not respond despite multiple requests.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“While we still seek to understand all of the issues at play, there seemed to a basic lack of preparedness, which led to ‘every man for himself’ approach. While we are elected to represent a specific subset of the population during crisis, we must all come together and support all our neighbors. That outlook was a primary driver for the creation of the joint City of San Antonio / Bexar County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) back in 2008. However, all the resources (time, taxpayer dollars, and preparation) that go into something such as the EOC are wasted when, as soon as a disaster occurs, emergency protocol is abandoned and pointing of fingers ensues. Examples of this fracture in unity in dire times included a lack of communication from CPS Energy to SAWS when the decision to take down the critical University Pump Station was made, thus hindering proactive communication to constituents they were about to lose water. Additionally, no locations for bottled water distribution were placed outside of the city limits, until the County pushed for there to be additional sites that were accessible to citizens in the unincorporated areas.”

“Moving forward, we have to engage not just the City and County in emergency response, but the military and the private sector. Companies such as H-E-B were much better prepared, so the opportunity to have them at the table during a crisis would be incredibly helpful. After personally sourcing generators via HoltCat for the San Antonio Zoo, it became obvious the private sector can work much more quickly than government during a crisis. And, with the military presence we have in San Antonio, the opportunity to engage leadership who have extensive backgrounds in disaster relief is critical to the success of a robust and comprehensive plan of action.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake? Why or why not?

“I do, but, in San Antonio we have a unique energy corporation in CPS being both a generator and a delivery company. While our energy is not fully deregulated at the local level through the City of San Antonio owning CPS, we were affected by the rest of the state being deregulated, causing CPS to deliver energy to the rest of the grid as opposed to keeping it here locally. During winter storm ‘Uri,’ a state that is largely energy independent fell to its knees. The grid operation by ERCOT and the profit-driving nature of energy and natural gas led Texans across the state to struggle.”

“While I’m normally a firm believer in free markets, the over commoditization of energy led to extreme price gouging and the priority become profit over people. The large legal, operational, and market complexities of energy and regulation are why I requested the county hire an external energy consultant – someone who can help local elected officials get a better grasp on what we can do to prevent a catastrophe like this from ever happening again.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“First and foremost, we need to demand answers and accountability regarding why we were so unprepared. A deep dive into the crisis communications/emergency response or lack thereof is warranted so corrective action can be taken.

“Secondly, we need to re-establish one location of all emergency operations at the Joint EOC. In its current structure, the EOC has a leader for City emergency response and a leader for County emergency response. Adjustments need to be made so that there is one person leading the charge for all of Bexar County, which includes the City of San Antonio.

“An experienced person equipped to handle emergency response will help pool resources, aid all residents, and simplify and unify communications to the public as well as to other political leaders. A true joint effort will make sure everyone gets the help they need - but more importantly it increases the abilities of local government to fight for everyone and keep everyone informed. Once a leader and comprehensive emergency response team is appointed, disaster response drills to need to be scheduled and held regularly with an emphasis on how best to disseminate information to residents - through text alerts and an array of other communication platforms.

“Last but certainly not least, we have to invest in winterization of our energy assets. It has been neglected for far too long. There also needs to be an understanding that while renewables including wind and solar are a complement to the overall energy portfolio, baseload power including coal, nuclear and natural gas will continue to be critical components in our future. The big question will be how do we pay for it without burdening ratepayers?”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“The first thing I told the county staff the Friday before the storm hit was that the homeless housing and warming center plan was inadequate, and that turned out to be true. We also did not set up warming centers fast enough and close enough to major population centers. CPS and the press did not adequately communicate the importance of conserving energy, and that needed to be communicated by the county judge, the mayor, the governor, and other elected leaders in regular news broadcasts. CPS and SAWS did not use text messaging or any reverse calling to keep those who were in the blackouts apprised of how long they would be affected. In the future, emergency communications must improve exponentially. CPS needed to communicate where the critical locations that would maintain power were, so that the elected officials could set up warming centers at nearby schools, churches, or other large buildings near hospitals and military bases. SAWS and CPS both failed to weatherize and provide back up generators. They claimed those generators would be too expensive, but they used money to build the Vista Ridge Pipeline project, when those funds could have gone towards backup power and water operations. Governmental leaders need to rehearse emergency situations on a more regular basis, and the role of elected officials needs to be understood in disasters more clearly, especially in the case of the county judge, the mayor, the commissioners court and among city council members. Seniors, the sick, and the disabled were put in the worst circumstances. Consequently, there needs to be emergency medical buildings set up in the future to handle losses in power and water.

“I can not stress enough the importance of establishing a regional operational plan for emergency disaster response—we just weren’t prepared for a major disaster. This operational plan should be complete with task force creation, scenario forecasting, training, and drills to implement and rehearse open lines of communication, command and control fluidity, and to increase the effectiveness and urgency of rapid response at the onset of a disaster. At the first notice of an emergency, the array of scenarios in the realm of possibilities for each jurisdiction should be explored. In the future, if we have five days to prepare for such a potential disaster, then we should stage drills to provide water, backup resources, food, transportation and other assets in a more rapidly deployable manner. We should go into emergency sessions and map out available assets, such as hotels, universities and supermarkets, to include these important resources into our planning and engagement strategies for a regional response.

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake? Why or why not?

“Deregulation allowed energy companies to skirt weatherizing and back up contingency investments in utility infrastructure. It was a huge mistake. Deregulation simply meant that the state legislators and the governor were going to allow their big campaign contributors in the energy business to pocket the money they would have invested in backup operations to weatherize power companies. The statewide crisis in February is a clear wake-up call that deregulation is not serving the public’s best interest.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“It would be wise to conduct drills between the federal government, state, county, and city, so that the stakeholders understand the roles they must play. We must prepare comprehensive contingency plans for future emergency management scenarios. Communications from our utilities about outages must be drastically improved, and the press also needs to make sure the public is focused on the energy crisis and can be enlisted to conserve energy.

“If hindsight is 20/20, then the recent disaster should be utilized as an example for improving communications and our approach to emergency management. What began as a sub-freezing weather storm quickly became a water shortage disaster, a food shortage disaster, and an energy shortage disaster. It became immediately apparent in the recent Texas emergency that the proper community assets, equipment, and vehicles integral in establishing a rapid response were not in place, and we need to learn to utilize community volunteers to assist emergency management with overwhelming catastrophes to take better care of vulnerable populations.”

District 1 - Councilman Roberto Trevino

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“Unfortunately, we were unaware that near power grid failure and outages would be a part of the winter crisis; however, we knew there would be many vulnerable unsheltered individuals who would be seeking a place to stay during the emergency. Had we preidentified warming centers across the city and worked with our City partners, like VIA, to have plan for warming busses, we would have been able to extend those resources to high-risk residents and respond to the need immediately rather than not having relief in place until days into this storm.

“Our EOC should have been activated in advance of the predicted weather event. In times of crisis, we must have a plan in place that can be quickly activated during emergencies.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake? Why or why not?

“We need accountability and transparency at the State level and at ERCOT. We can see the severe impact the recent winter storm had on all Texans. Deregulation and the stand-alone attitude of Texas regarding our energy grid led directly to the near catastrophe we faced last month. The profits of the energy sector were prioritized at the expense of the people of Texas, the stability of the grid, and the preparedness of energy providers to ensure production during extreme weather events.

“The current system doesn’t prioritize residents. Folks should not be left with the bill for a situation they were placed in by a profit-motivated “system.” Utilities, such as power, water, and now the internet, should be easily accessible and affordable for all citizens. Lives were lost during this storm due to the reckless behavior of those who place profit over people for over a decade.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“We need to immediately review, revise, and revamp our emergency preparedness plan. The winter storm showed how vulnerable we are as a city and the events are still fresh in our minds. Every possible opportunity for providing services should be examined and revised so they are available for those in need the next time disaster strikes. Hurricane season is two months away, we must always use difficult situations as opportunities to conduct a comprehensive analysis of our readiness, in preparation for the next emergency. Deaths could have been avoided had we been better prepared. In addition to ensuring our readiness, we must push our municipally-owned utility, CPS Energy, to also do everything in its power to make certain it is prepared for extreme weather events at all levels, from generation to emergency response. Both the City and CPS Energy must communicate these efforts transparently to the community they serve.”

District 2 - Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“Installation of electric generators at the SAWS pumping stations. San Antonio could have made its own grid cooperative with outside sources. Being better prepared for food shortages. Wind Turbines need to be weatherized for future extreme weather changes. We need to be prepared for extreme heat during the summer months also. Fan distribution and cooling stations. Airports should not be forced to shut down because we don’t have adequate deicer and snow clearing equipment.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“Yes, it was a mistake. As indicated by the lack of energy that could have come from other states and Canada.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“Local levels should at a minimum be prepared for icy roads and bridges – salt truck availability. Snow chains for VIA buses to transport seniors and the disabled to a location that is set up to provide needed safety during times of need due to disasters. Maintain food and water distribution centers. Have accurate information that can be communicated to the community through the emergency notification system.”

District 3 - Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“Lack of coordination and crisis communication deepened the winter storm crisis that left millions of Texans without power and water during the deep freeze. As we have planned for Hurricanes and other disasters in the past, I think that mark was missed. Also, I think crisis communication to the entire council, not just in emails, would have helped clarify issues and help the City Manager and Mayor know exactly what our constituents needed, we could’ve worked together, not in silos.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“I do believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Moreover, their lack of action back in 2011, after they experienced a freeze and knew action needed to take place. Texas’s power grid failure was worsened by a lack of understanding by those in charge of the grid of the intense risks that arise with severe cold weather, as well as the lack of long-term preparedness.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“Lobby the State Legislature to take the immediate and necessary steps to bring weatherization and bring all items up to Federal standards and look at alternative options to get into a more sustainable structure that is not dependent on the market. In addition, I believe that Mayor Nirenberg has taken steps to avoid this from happening again by announcing the formation of a Select Committee on the 2021 Winter Storm Preparedness and Response. This committee will study the preparedness and response of public utilities and make recommendations on future preparedness efforts. With the help of this Committee, San Antonio will be better prepared for future storms of this nature.”

District 4 - Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“Before offering a list of recommendations that could have helped us better prepare and respond to this weather emergency, there needs to be a comprehensive review of what transpired days before the winter storm, during and after the severe weather event. Both the City of San Antonio and Bexar County have an Office of Emergency Management which is typically the entity that leads preparation and response efforts. Both entities also have a set of plans developed to address a range of potential crises that may occur. When I first joined City Council, I inquired about contingency and emergency plans and asked what would trigger the execution of these plans. As part of my work in the Committee on Emergency Preparedness, I am thoroughly reviewing the plans developed by the City and County as well as analyzing the plans developed by peer cities. I think it’s important to examine internally and externally before proceeding with next steps.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“The energy sector is governed and overseen by our state leaders and so local governing authorities are limited. We are fortunate to have municipally-owned utilities and so in that aspect we as members of the City Council have an opportunity to work alongside both CPS Energy and SAWS to better serve the residents of San Antonio.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“The number one priority at the local level should be our residents and offering them the assistance to address any issues related to the effects of the winter storm, whether financial or in terms of infrastructure. We also have to remember the financial stress many of our residents may feel and the uncertainty that comes with not knowing how the financial cost of the winter storm will impact them directly. I am particularly concerned about our vulnerable populations like our homebound seniors, families with individuals of different abilities and our residents who rely on electrically operated medical equipment. The unprecedented events we’ve witnessed in the last year have taught us that the unimaginable is sometimes possible so we owe it to our residents to think deliberately about every possible worst-case scenario and what we can do to better prepare for a crisis.”

District 5 - Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“I’ve long been an advocate for increasing funds for our city’s delegate agencies. The winter storm has become a case study of how community organizations and nonprofits are our greatest untapped resource. Our delegate agencies form a city-wide network that connects those at the farthest margins; they know where and how to best reach our most vulnerable seniors, children, and families. Our Neighborhood Associations are a natural connection between the city, its resources in times of emergency, and our residents—neighbors looking out for and helping neighbors.

“Delegate agency networks are connected in ways that would have helped the flow of information—residents would have a reliable way of knowing what was coming, how to prepare, where to go for help or to report problems, and the City would have a reliable way to gather information about residents’ needs.

“Also, we could do a better job of centralizing information. During the freeze emergency there were too many messages coming from too many entities, and this is problematic for clear messaging. We needed to hear consistent messages from CPS Energy, the City, SAWS, the Food Bank, the Highway Department, SAPD, SAFD, Haven for Hope, and others. We know that information about the supply from the energy grid was constantly changing, and that’s more the reason to have had one joint-entity voice telling one story, sending one reliable message.

“A better flow of information is basic. With it we could have set up warming stations earlier, responded to vital needs quicker, bolstered our 3-1-1 staff, and targeted our energies.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“The deregulation of the state power grid answers the call of a market-based economy. The problem is that the incentive is for real-time profit, and there is no incentive to prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime event— there is no market ROI. But this past month the market left the entire state hanging, it didn’t answer a vital need, it cost lives and billions of dollars in damages. The market’s response left us unprepared, it reacted for profit, increasing the price of fuel with no regard for life and limb, it fell short of anticipating and filling an emergency need.

“I have no problem with profit-based incentives, I am a small business owner and understand how markets work. But I also understand that the market needs guardrails to prevent its inherent instincts from causing harm.

“Does a deregulated system serve our mythical Texan independent spirit and keep our energy costs down?

“There’s an argument to say yes if those are the only goals.

“Would federal regulations have prevented February’s hardships?

“There’s an equally strong argument in favor of this as well.

“Was it a mistake?

“Yes. The energy market failed us, and we could have done better.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“No one can avoid a storm. But we can avoid being unprepared, or we can prepare as best as we can.

“I go back to my previous answers.

“We need to build a better crisis communications structure, a communications war room, if you will, that goes beyond synchronized messaging and establishes an all-inclusive emergency information voice that people will know and rely on.

“We need to bolster and develop our delegate agency networks. and we need to make room for regulating of our energy market.”

District 6 - Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“In the face of disasters like this one, I look for the opportunities exposed by the magnitude of this crisis. Communication plays a critical role in allaying fears during any time of active crisis. Fear breeds in silence and 2020 has taught us a lot of lessons about how our neighbors are affected by a lack of clear, consistent information. Many folks have limited or no access to the internet or television and with cellular networks that became increasingly unstable, we needed more robust methods for sharing information as well as for identifying areas of urgent need. Using our emergency alert system to warn our city about the potential effects of the storm, setting up warming centers before the onset of a possible storm occurs, and turning off the lights to all city-owned facilities would have helped in the preparation of and response to this storm. I think neighborhood leaders, community advocates, and first responders showed the agility with which our community can and will respond to those in need, but we need to do more to ensure that people don’t suffer unnecessary hardship because they can’t easily find the help they deserve.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“Winter Storm Uri is estimated to be the costliest disaster in state history, but what troubles me more than the economics is the loss of life. A child succumbed to the cold in his sleep, a mother and daughter died from carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to warm themselves in their car, an elderly woman was found frozen in her own backyard. These are unthinkable losses in a state that leads the nation in energy production. Deregulation was a bet on the Texas climate that saved consumers on their monthly bills, but a lack of investment in cold-weather infrastructure and our state’s limited ability to import power caused a ripple effect that ended lives, severely damaged homes, and may ultimately end up proving far more financially burdensome than the risk state leaders undertook.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“There is no way to completely prevent a crisis, but there are steps being taken to ensure communication and resources can be mobilized for residents more quickly. I recently signed on to a CCR proposed by Councilman Perry for preparation of an emergency preparedness guide and videos for community distribution that would saturate the community with information prior to a major weather event. I also supported a CCR proposed by Councilman Pelaez to increase training for Council members and their staff on emergency protocols and better equip us to inform our constituents during emergencies. Additionally, I look forward to the results of the panel appointed by the Mayor to investigate the city and its utilities as I am hopeful that will provide a sound framework from which a comprehensive citywide response plan can be formed. We have learned lessons from the preparation and response of Uri, but that means nothing if we do not take action based on what we learned.”

District 7 - Councilwoman Ana Sandoval

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

Our community has a history of stepping up to help other cities experiencing crises, but this storm was different. San Antonio, like all cities in Texas, was already experiencing an emergency before the storm hit. Whether it was the economic fallout of the pandemic, the demand for vaccines, or the required social distancing, all of these conditions made it more difficult to respond effectively. Too many people suffered without heat, water, and information for too long.

Part of the work of the Committee on Emergency Preparedness, convened by the Mayor, is to look into this very question. Without the benefit of completing the investigation yet, some areas for improvement include:

  • Review of organizations on critical infrastructure circuits for electricity;
  • Better communications and coordination among the utilities and the City; and
  • Instructions to the public about how to prepare for extreme cold weather, such as water shut offs. This effort could have been coordinated with our media outlets, similar to excessive heat warnings.

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“Many states have deregulated energy systems, but not to the extent of the Texas grid. Our current regulatory landscape, which may allow for lower rates and higher profits, ultimately leaves the grid, the utilities, and most importantly, the consumer, vulnerable. For instance, the lack of regulation gives energy providers little incentive to invest in weatherization. The unregulated prices force utilities to make difficult purchasing decisions in times of scarcity: pay prices that can bankrupt a utility or turn or leave customers in the cold.

“Our state leadership needs to recognize that a system that puts profits over people will not save us from another devastating storm. Energy reliability is a life or death issue.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“My colleagues on the Committee on Emergency Preparedness and I will look into how our community prepared, how decisions were made and executed during the storm, and what the storm impacts were.

“We can not have a definite response to this question until we complete our work. I do believe we may make recommendations along the lines of:

  • Consider the projected frequency of extreme weather events with respect to a changing climate;
  • Taking into account the above, review and upgrade weatherization practices for municipally owned energy generation facilities;
  • Review and enhance preparation procedures for extreme cold weather events;
  • Review and enhance coordination practices along utilities, the city, and private sector non-profits and businesses also involved in storm response. In a storm of this magnitude no one organization can take the burden for the whole response. The response must be coordinated with organizations supporting one another;
  • We must learn from those who took action in the storm. The work of the committee would not be complete without hearing from the public and the many community members who stepped up to help neighbors. We also need to hear what the utilities and non-profit organizations learned from this experience;
  • Review and enhance communication practices with the public during extreme cold weather events. We need seamless, unified communication to the public in a time of crisis and in preparation for an extreme weather events;
  • A thorough review and enhancement of the decision process for where, when and how long blackouts occurred; and
  • I’m calling for an assessment of how the storm impacted people’s health. I have heard stories about elderly diabetic residents who didn’t have enough light to administer their insulin shots. Knowing how the storm risked people’s health will help us better prepare for the next storm.

“The committee will meet weekly for the foreseeable future. I have faith that our work will lead us to a series of recommendations that will put us in a much better position when a storm like this occurs again.”

District 8 - Councilman Manny Pelaez

Manny Pelaez declined to answer the questionnaire, issuing this statement instead:

“Thank you for reaching out to me regarding your questionnaire on the Texas Outage. Because I was recently named by the Mayor to serve on the Committee on Emergency Preparedness, I believe it would be inappropriate for me to respond to your questions at this time. The purpose of this committee is to study the preparedness and response of the public utilities in order to make recommendations for the future. I believe that responding to the questions would be asking me to form an opinion prior to the committee doing its due diligence. I respectfully decline and would welcome the opportunity to revisit your questions once the committee has completed its work.”

District 9 - Councilman John Courage

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“Basic advanced communication and education of the public about the potential for the outages, what to do and what not to do, like turning off/on all your electric and gas appliances. One problem was that as power went out and power was being restored the electric and gas generators were tripped off, again and again due to power demand overloads, because everyone had all their electric and gas units left on and the huge surge for demand for power kept shutting the systems back down.”

“CPS Energy also needed a more reliable system for ‘rolling’ or implementing and rotating the power outages more evenly across thier system and across the city.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“I believe the lack of action by the Texas Legislature, the PUC and ERCOT to enact and enforce stringent requirements for responsible weatherization of our entire Electric power system in Texas, particularly after the power outages of 1989 and 2011, have contributed to the unpreparedness and catastrophic failure of our Texas energy grid again last month. The political appointments to leadership positions on the PUC and ERCOT have undermined the integrity of the quality and effectiveness of our energy system. This was not a deregulation problem; it was a failure of leadership to assume responsibility, and demand and enforce corrective action problem.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“The City of San Antonio with the participation of representatives from a variety of stakeholders groups, especially the City Council, need to thoroughly examine how our utilities responded to the weather emergency and how they responded to state and local demands. We need to know what decisions were made, why and by whom, and what were the conditions or reasons for making those decisions. We need to know what worked, what didn’t work and what steps we need to make to insure we are prepared and protected. Following this examination SAWS, CPS Energy need to submit plans to the City Council for approval to ensure corrections and made to avoid any similar failures in our utility services delivery.”

District 10 - Councilman Clayton Perry

What could have been done differently at the local level to better prepare for and respond to the deadly storm?

“There are many issues to be unpacked and addressed here – and the Emergency Preparedness Committee is beginning to meet and discuss these very issues based on input from neighbors, businesses, experts, the utilities themselves, and other stakeholders. I believe that there are three main areas that we will need to correct based on the preliminary information we experienced and have received. We need: better communication; better coordination; and better preparation. Specifically, I believe we should have utilized the emergency text system to provide updates and guidance to residents; we should have staffed the EOC with the appropriate entities sooner, and staffed the 311 hotline 24/7 among other actions. I also believe we should have called an emergency Council meeting sooner so that we could have coordinated better with SAWS, CPS and among ourselves about the issues being experienced across the community.”

Based on calls and emails I received, it also became clear that there were some emergency issues that many residents didn’t know how to address such as where to shut their water off, or where they could turn for this and other types of guidance when their utilities were compromised. That was the reasoning for my Council Consideration Request to create an emergency preparedness community guide that could be loaded with useful guidance and information on what to do in situations when you lose water and/or electricity.

“There will be a lot more answers to this question as the Emergency Preparedness Committee continues its work. I am grateful to be a part of the committee, and am hopeful that we continue to receive more input, feedback, and suggestions from our neighbors and businesses as we work through this process.”

Do you believe state leaders’ decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. Why or why not?

“The State Legislature created the deregulated energy system back in the 90s, and I am sure that it is probably a good time to take a look at this model and investigate if it’s still the right choice for Texans. Before any major reactions are made however, I think it is imperative that we fully investigate any implications – intended and unintended – for abandoning deregulation. For example, we need to be mindful of how much it would cost ratepayers to change the current system, and understand fully what its economic impact would be on our businesses.

“And after those investigations are complete and decisions are made, whatever the models looks like in the future should be analyzed frequently and adjustments made appropriately to protect the ratepayers while ensuring a reliable grid across the state.”

What should be done now at the local level to avoid this from happening again?

“We’re taking necessary steps now through the Emergency Preparedness Committee to investigate all of the issues and lessons learned to prevent these types of major failures in the future. This is going to be a months-long fact finding process. It’s being handled deliberately and thoughtfully, and I believe that as we continue to work through this process, and with the input from the community and all stakeholders, we will figure out ways to make our utilities more resilient.”