TEXAS VIEW: We shouldn’t have to be so thankful that the state power grid held up

No news was good news when it came to the arctic blast that brought freezing temperatures to Texas last week.

As a state, we’re still grappling with PTSD from the February 2021 devastation of Winter Storm Uri, which caused the state’s power grid to fail, forced more than 4 million households to go without electricity and took the lives of hundreds of Texans.

In the days leading up to last week’s cold front, many of us nervously stocked up on essential items. We loaded our pantries with nonperishables. We made sure our flashlights had working batteries.

When the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which oversees the state power grid, issued a conservation appeal Sunday for Monday morning, we worried.

“Operating reserves are expected to be low tomorrow morning due to continued freezing temperatures, record-breaking demand, and unseasonably low wind,” ERCOT announced. “We request Texas businesses and residents conserve electricity use.”

A similar appeal was issued for Tuesday morning, but, thankfully, the state power grid held up this time.

To be sure, an element of luck was involved. This freeze wasn’t as severe as Uri. It didn’t last as long, and it didn’t produce as much freezing precipitation.

“I don’t think that this should be taken as if we had another Winter Storm Uri, we’d be fine,” said Doug Lewin, president of Stoic Energy Consulting. “This was not Winter Storm Uri. It’s not that kind of test.”

Solar and wind generation gave the grid a nice boost, and ERCOT’s calls for conservation probably spurred some reduction in energy usage. That combination of forces enabled the grid to make it through the cold front.

We can appreciate the success of the grid last week while also recognizing that we shouldn’t have to consider it a remarkable achievement to go through a few days of sub-32-degree temperatures without millions of Texans being plunged into darkness.

In other states, residents don’t expect to lose power every time there’s a cold front. And we shouldn’t have to either.

Four months after Uri, Gov. Greg Abbott signed two bills that he promised would do “everything that needed to be done” to fix the state power grid. One bill called for weatherization of Texas power plants, and the other reorganized the governing structure of ERCOT.

While it’s hard to quantify the impact of recent state-mandated weatherization efforts, it’s reasonable to assume they were at least somewhat helpful in preventing the widespread shutdowns of thermal power plants that occurred during the 2021 freeze.

But when it comes to power generation, our margin for error is too thin. Last summer’s prolonged heat wave repeatedly pushed the power grid to the brink of its capacity. A more intense freeze last week might have pushed us past the brink.

An obvious answer would be for Texas to follow the example of other states by joining an integrated, multistate grid network.

Texas has stubbornly refused to take this approach because it would subject the state to federal regulations.

The go-it-alone strategy, however, has cut Texas off from supplemental power sources it could lean on in times of crisis.

Our power grid made it through the week successfully. And we’re thankful. But we shouldn’t have to be thankful that our lights stayed on. It should be expected.

When it comes to our power grid, stability isn’t something we should hope for. Reliability isn’t something we should aspire to achieve. These are things we should be able to count on.

San Antonio Express-News