This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune: Read More
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The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday is holding a hearing about last month’s massive power outages. The congressional hearing comes after the Texas Legislature held marathon hearings of their own, grilling public regulators and energy grid officials about how power outages happened and why Texans weren’t given more warnings about the danger.
Speakers expected to testify include Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness and Texas Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick. ERCOT operates the state’s main power grid. Magness will soon leave that agency after being terminated in the aftermath of the storm. The railroad commission regulates the state’s natural gas production and transportation.
From the natural gas wellheads in West Texas to the power plants that burn gas to generate electricity to the companies that deliver power to Texans, multiple systems failed during the storm and made what should have been a mild inconvenience into a statewide crisis, executives, regulators, lawmakers and experts said. Yet politically powerful natural gas companies, along with their regulators, have largely escaped the wrath of Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature.
At least 57 people died during the winter storm that plunged large swaths of Texas into subfreezing temperatures and overwhelmed the state’s electricity infrastructure, causing massive power outages. At the height of the crisis, nearly 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses were without power. That’s because nearly half of the total power generation capacity for the main state electricity grid was offline as weather conditions caused failures in every type of power source: natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear. Millions of Texans went days without power.
Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies, who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market. Dozens of natural gas companies failed to do the paperwork that would have kept their facilities powered during an emergency, so utilities last month cut their electricity at the very moment that power plants most needed fuel.