What state lawmakers from San Antonio think caused Texas blackouts and how to prevent in future

‘The power outages that resulted from the winter storm demonstrated a failure in communication, a failure in preparation, and a failure in oversight.’

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2021, file photo, woman walks through falling snow in San Antonio. As temperatures plunged and snow and ice whipped the state, much of Texas' power grid collapsed, followed by its water systems. Tens of millions huddled in frigid homes that slowly grew colder or fled for safety. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2021, file photo, woman walks through falling snow in San Antonio. As temperatures plunged and snow and ice whipped the state, much of Texas' power grid collapsed, followed by its water systems. Tens of millions huddled in frigid homes that slowly grew colder or fled for safety. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Editor’s note: Read what local elected officials in San Antonio and Bexar County said here.

The Texas Legislature’s hands were already full before Winter Storm Uri battered the Lone Star State in February and added another massive priority to their list — addressing the state’s energy vulnerabilities.

The winter storm left millions of Texans 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.

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

Since then, state lawmakers have sat through hours of testimony centered around the failures exposed by the winter storm. As a body, they will have to decide on the reforms needed to fix the problem, just as they were the group to implement the current system.

As state lawmakers deliberate over those issues, KSAT 12 News sent a questionnaire to every state lawmaker representing San Antonio and Bexar County, 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 officials were given two weeks to issue their responses, which are provided in full below.

District 19 - State Senator Roland Gutierrez

State Senator Roland Gutierrez did not respond despite multiple requests.

District 21 - State Senator Judith Zaffirini

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

“Most critically, the state could have required weatherization practices from its generators and utilities. Facilities across the state failed when they were unable to receive fuel or experienced weather-related mechanical failures. Had they been required to prepare for severe winter weather, more than 50 lives may have been spared and millions would not have lost power.”

“What’s more, ERCOT and the PUC failed to communicate effectively with the public, leaving Texans wondering how long it would be before they regained power. Such a violation of public trust is as disappointing as it is dangerous.”

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

“Although there are elements of deregulation that likely have benefited consumers, most notably in creating an environment that has welcomed investment and innovation, our lack of oversight and grid independence failed us during Winter Storm Uri.”

“Because Texas operates its own grid, we were unable to receive assistance from other parts of the country when power was needed most desperately. What’s more, the parts of the state not included in ERCOT—El Paso, parts of east Texas and the Panhandle—fared much better the rest of the state precisely because of their connectedness with other grids. In light of the failures that occurred in February, all policy options, including working toward integrating ERCOT into the national grids, should be on the table.”

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

“The Senate and House are investigating all aspects of this disaster, and many proposals have been offered to address various failures. I filed two bills, Senate Bills (SB) 845 and 857, that would improve our preparedness and accountability. SB 845 would authorize the Public Utility Commission to mandate weatherization protocols for generators and utilities, inspect facilities, and levy fines for noncompliance. SB 857 would provide greater public accountability by making public utility commissioners statewide elected officials serving staggered, six-year terms—in other words, exactly the same as Railroad Commissioners.”

District 25 - State Senator Donna Campbell

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

“The power outages that resulted from the winter storm demonstrated a failure in communication, a failure in preparation, and a failure in oversight. The Legislature is in the process of assessing why these failures occurred, and I am committed to passing legislation to make sure this never happens again.”

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

“I believe we need a better statewide alert system to communicate in real time when outages might occur and how long they can be expected to last. We need power outages to actually rotate so no residents are without power for more than a few hours, let alone days.”

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

“We need to make sure on-site inspections of generation facilities are regularly occurring and that they are in compliance with industry weatherization standards. Finally, we need more transparency and oversight of ERCOT.”

District 26 - State Senator José Menéndez

State Senator José Menéndez did not respond despite multiple requests.

District 116 - State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer

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

“First and foremost, our energy system should have been properly weatherized to prepare for a storm of this magnitude. Industry actors had ten years of notice—one of the main recommendations following the winter storms of 2011 was winterization. In the fallout of this year’s storms, we witnessed a breakdown in communication of enormous proportions. Though their industries are inextricably linked, recent legislative hearings have revealed just how siloed natural gas suppliers and the electricity industry have become. How could two industries that are so interconnected fail to collaborate at even the most basic level when their resources were needed most?”

“Most importantly, the entire energy system needed to do a better job of communicating directly to the public, free of technical lingo and jargon. It is unacceptable that customers were told to expect rolling outages only to sit in the cold and in the dark for days on end. Once it became clear that rolling outages would be insufficient to stabilize the grid, every industry stakeholder had a responsibility to communicate that change to customers. People in our community and across the state could have made plans to go somewhere safer and warmer if they knew the power wasn’t coming back any time soon.”

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

“In our current system, the Texas government lacks both the carrot to incentivize power companies to properly weatherize the grid and the stick to ensure that they do so. Parts of East Texas, El Paso, and the Panhandle are not on the ERCOT grid; instead, they participate in the two main power grids in North America, the Eastern and Western Interconnections. As a result, these areas were able to tap into a broader array of power sources during the winter storm and largely avoided the harrowing experience that so many Texans faced last month. Power grid flexibility and improved interconnectedness beyond the state are two of the many options the Legislature should consider in our policy response to the winter power crisis. We have a chance to make sure that free markets and regulation work in the best interest of all Texans, not just for private interests.”

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

“Last month’s winter storm is the costliest natural disaster in Texas history. We need to reform the system, but we cannot have reform without responsibility. I want to see the Legislature enact forward-thinking policy, but I also recognize the need for an independent investigation. I am encouraged by the recent announcement of investigations by Travis County District Attorney José Garza, by the U.S. House Oversight Committee, and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. We must follow the evidence wherever it leads and hold to account any industry actor, state agency, or official responsible for leaving millions of Texans in the cold.”

“I have also heard substantial discussion of merging the Public Utilities Commission, ERCOT, and the Railroad Commission into a single energy regulatory agency. I am open to this proposal, so long as officials are elected by voters. Now more than ever, energy leaders must be responsive to the people, not to party politics or special interests.”

District 117 - State Rep. Philip Cortez

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

“I believe the state should have communicated better with ERCOT and the PUC on what precautions Texans should take to prepare for the winter weather. Communicating these precautions and actions for Texans to take ahead of time, may have assisted with the conservation of energy and water and could have decreased the amount of time people went without both. Additionally, the state should implement a plan for events like Winter Storm Uri, including a disbursement of weather emergency alerts to phones across the state, develop a plan of action for warming shelters in major municipalities and surround areas, as well as food and water distributions sites.”

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

“I believe the lack of oversight at the state level is what lead us to the timeline of events that occurred during and after Winter Storm Uri. Ensuring communication between the board of directors that oversee the state’s power grid with state elected officials and local energy resources is imperative as we move forward.”

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

“Increased communication, requesting quarterly hearings throughout the legislative session and the interim, as well as developing a plan of action for extreme weather emergencies.”

District 118 - State Rep. Leo Pacheco

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

“The State could have and should have emphasized and commenced ‘winterizing’ more of the power infrastructure of Texas. A 2011 report warned that better anticipation and more winterizing was needed.”

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

“Yes. The States complete deregulation was a mistake that has allowed heat and savings to be taken from our poor and middle-class families, and controlled by corporate entities and Profiteers.”

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

“The energy infrastructure should be “hardened,” better protected and reinforced to prevent the loss of electric power and water when next experiencing such an ‘artic blast.’”

District 119 - State Rep. Elizabeth Campos

State Rep. Elizabeth Campos did not respond despite multiple requests.

District 120 - State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins

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

“Many of my colleagues are as concerned as I am with the recent failures of this current system. Across all governmental entities, better communication is necessary and is currently being addressed by the legislature. State officials should keep an eye on efficiency prior to and even more so during times of crisis. The lack of focus and work on winterization prior to this deadly storm caused many Texans to be without power. Ensuring the Texas’ electric power grid was built for climate resilience should have been done to better prepare for situations like this.”

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

“This deadly storm exposed Texas’ decision to deregulate the power grid to failure. Deregulation failed due to the lack of rules, oversight, and governance during a crucial time for Texas citizens. The utilities crisis following the winter storm has shown the decision of deregulation as the incorrect approach because it’s impact has required many Texas residential consumers to pay exceptionally more for their power than customers of the state’s traditional utilities.”

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

“My colleagues and I in the legislature are committed to working together this session and beyond to ensure future catastrophes are prevented. It is important that we do not forget the dozens of lives lost due to last month’s storm as we move forward in making sure this never happens again. Reliability has emerged as a major concern. As lawmakers, we must discuss new energy supply technology, including distributed energy resources, or small-scale units of local generation connected to the grid at a distribution level. We must use all of our resources to make sure we protect the people of Texas.”

District 121 - State Rep. Steve Allison

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

“All levels should have been better prepared by ensuring that sources of power would continue to work during extreme weather and during peak demand. There was a failure to plan for worst-case scenarios and anticipate how much demand there would be. If sources of power had been better equipped and prepared for extreme weather, the state electric grid could have better handled all the demand that was created when temperatures dropped so low.”

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

“There is a need to reassess deregulation and carefully weigh the respective pros and cons, including the reliability of available use of our own energy sources and assessing local agreements with states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana. Deregulation can work and be more beneficial to Texans. Even in a deregulated market, you need effective and accountable oversight, as well as proper planning that anticipates worst-case scenarios.”

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

“It’s important to make agency reforms to ensure the agency has the policy, oversight, management capabilities, and enforcement mechanisms to provide necessary preparations, including weatherization measures, to assure capacity, generation, and service to all customers. Agencies should also have the capabilities in plan to impose appropriate and reasonable controls to avoid unreasonable price increases.”

District 122 - State Rep. Lyle Larson

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

“Texas could have mandated weatherization of power plants after the winter storm in February 2011 and could have developed a capacity market to allow all energy generators to build generation capacity that deals with significant weather events.”

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

“In a regulated market, generators are defined by rate of return and are likely to have built in more capacity to deal with shortages of power. In a deregulated market, generators can be required to have both weatherization and capacity as a condition.”

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

“The Legislature must act to ensure better leadership with regard to power supply and electric reliability. We need to revisit the structure of our power market and prioritize winterization of all generation sources. Currently, the Texas power market operates as “energy-only,” which encourages scarcity because generators are paid only when they provide power. A capacity market encourages reliability and incentivizes building capacity needed to address extreme weather events. Texas needs to evolve into a market that provides both reliable and affordable power, like a capacity market.”

“Additionally, the Public Utility Commission should be elected and not appointed.”

“Our office recently submitted this op-ed and filed the following bills to avoid this from happening again in the future:”

“HB 2381: Relating to the establishment of the Texas Energy and Communications Commission to consolidate the functions of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Railroad Commission of Texas.”

“HB 2653: Relating to the review date under the Texas Sunset Act for the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the independent organization certified by the ERCOT power region.”

“HB 2657: Relating to the authority of the Public Utility Commission of Texas to ensure the independent organization certified for the ERCOT power region has adequate reserve power to prevent blackout conditions.”

“HB 2848: Relating to the election of commissioners of the Public Utility Commission of Texas.”

“HB 2849: Relating to the winter weather emergency preparedness of facilities that provide electric service.”

District 123 - State Rep. Diego Bernal

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

“For sessions, members of the Texas Legislature (always Democrats) have filed bills requiring various improvements to the State’s power grid including the weatherization of facilities, requiring sufficient backup reserves to prevent statewide blackouts, and considering the effects of climate change when preparing the strategic plan for the grid, and every session, these ideas were dismissed and the bills do not pass.”

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

“I absolutely think that the decision to deregulate Texas’ power grid was a mistake. There have been a series of decisions over the years that’s led us to this point, from who’s appointed to ERCOT by the Governor to not requiring that providers make plant upgrades to staying independent from the two national grids. All of these decisions culminated in what occurred during the winter storm.”

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

“Knowing now what we should have done prior to the winter storm to ensure that our grid would not fail under the conditions presented, there is no reason that the Legislature should not pursue legislation that would prevent these failures in the future. We can do things proactively, like weatherize our equipment, re-impose regulations on the energy industry, join--or at least create emergency access--to the national grids, to make sure that we are protected against increasing natural disasters and pressure on the grid.”

District 124 - State Rep. Ina Minjarez

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

“We were all aware that snow was in the forecast because meteorologists were predicting a severe storm with potentially harmful consequences. Unfortunately, people did not know enough to properly prepare for it. However, it should not have been left up to the citizens to prepare for and respond to the storm. A drastic event called for drastic action. The state should have been using any means necessary to reach people. At the state level, Texas should have created some type of emergency fund or plan to prepare for a winter storm. Their response should have been more empathetic and urgent and less time pointing fingers.”

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

“By deregulating Texas’ power grid from others in the U.S. state leaders left us vulnerable and literally in the dark. They were too concerned about money to think of the long-term consequences of their decision. So yes I believe it was a mistake; one I hope our state leadership can learn from and fix immediately.”

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

“We are currently in legislative session and have an opportunity to take what we’ve learned and create policies with clear instructions of what to do during a winter storm or other energy crisis. Additionally, we need to support state funded organizations like food banks to make sure they are funded. Texans are waiting for us to respond appropriately and provide meaningful legislation. This is our moment to act now.”

District 125 - State Rep. Ray Lopez

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

“The severe storm that we all experienced paralyzed almost every energy source in the state, from power plants to wind turbines, because their owners were deregulated with no oversight and hadn’t made the investments needed to produce electricity in subfreezing temperatures.

“Texas officials don’t require plant owners to prepare for the worst by spending extra money to ensure they can continue operating through severe cold or heat. The high prices operators can reap from such periods of peak demand were supposed to be incentive enough for them to invest in safeguarding their equipment from severe weather, but it wasn’t.”

“There should have been much more regulation and oversight directed towards ERCOT and the PUC, directing them to better prepare for extreme weather emergencies.”

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

“This is a place where the market fails to meet the public’s expectation and where regulation can come in. In an unregulated market, it makes no sense for an investor to spend money to take precautions that might be needed only once a decade.”

“If they do, another generator will not and will thus be able to undercut the more cautious generator’s price. This is akin to the concept in economics known as the tragedy of the commons where a cost is not fully reflected in the production of a good or service but ultimately will be borne by society generally – in this case in the form of plumbing bills to fix broken pipes, of example.”

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

“First and foremost, ERCOT, the PUC, and the overall energy system of Texas needs to be held to a much more rigorous standard set of rules and regulations that will put our system closer in line with the country. In the short term, my office has also filed a number of bills to assist those impacted by the storm.”

“In the long term, HB 2899 would create a task force that would create state regulations that can be mandated and implemented in order to improve the reliability of electricity and other utility services across the state.”

“It would require utility providers to send an email or text message to customers prior to intentionally shutting off their power in an emergency no later than 3 hours after the emergency occurs.”

“HB 2208 would protect disaster victims from identity theft crimes by providing for the confidentiality of personal information of applicants for disaster recovery funds and utility payment assistance.”

“I believe that all of these bills would provide Texans with much needed assistance following the storm.”


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