Texans are preparing for the possibility of a three-day winter storm this week, with many wondering whether Texas’ electric grid is up to the challenge.
“ERCOT expects sufficient generation to meet forecasted demand,” a spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)—the entity that oversees Texas’ power grid—told Texas Scorecard.
However, according to energy expert Bill Peacock, “The real question is not whether Texas is ready for a three-day winter storm, it is whether the governor and members of the Texas Legislature are willing to stop meddling in the Texas electricity market and propping up renewable energy. Because if they are not, Texans can never be certain that the grid can survive the next wave of extreme weather.”
After a record-breaking winter storm swept across Texas in February of 2021, the stability of Texas’ electric grid came under intense public scrutiny. As temperatures dipped below zero, ERCOT implemented rolling blackouts as the power grid struggled to keep up with the high-energy demand. For days, millions of Texans suffered through extreme weather conditions without electricity.
Texas’ dependence upon unreliable energy sources came under fire during this critical point since the power grid relies on wind and solar for 25 percent of the system’s energy production. As temperatures dropped below freezing, the state’s wind turbines froze and its solar panels failed to produce enough energy. This failure led to many Texans questioning why the state subsidizes these unreliable energy sources—with taxpayer money. From 2006 to 2019, Texas wind and solar companies received close to $19.4 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies.
Currently, Texas is the only state operating its own power grid, and ERCOT is responsible for supplying power to more than 26 million Texans, covering nearly 90 percent of the state’s energy supply.
The organization is a “membership-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation,” and ERCOT members include “consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers, and municipally owned electric utilities.”
After the February 2021 winter storm, many blamed ERCOT’s board of directors, but some pointed to state lawmakers. Although ERCOT functions independently, the state Legislature and the Public Utility Commission of Texas are responsible for oversight, with Gov. Greg Abbott responsible for appointing all three members of the Public Utility Commission.
Despite Abbott’s claims in May 2021 that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas” after signing two ERCOT reform bills into law, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission contradicted his statement last fall. FERC found that although Texas’ grid is prepared for average winter temperatures, the state’s power supply is still vulnerable to extreme winter weather conditions.
Texas Scorecard will release an investigative series next week on the state of Texas’ power grid.