Texas governor holds blames power grid operator for storm disaster

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Friday placed blame for the state’s widespread power outages on the grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Abbott’s press conference comes as the state continues to suffer from the aftermath of a winter storm that knocked out power for millions and caused a widespread water crisis. 

The governor said that days before the disaster, ERCOT experts assured the state that it would be prepared for the then-approaching storm. 

“They said, five days before the winter storm hit, ERCOT assured that ‘we are ready for the cold temperatures coming our way,'” the governor said. He added that ERCOT’s “annual winter assessment, which was designed to ensure the state is prepared… assured the public of Texas that there would be enough power to meet peak demand this winter.”

The subfreezing temperatures stopped production at gas fields in Texas and Oklahoma and damaged pipelines that transport natural gas over long distances. All told, 40% of Texas’ natural gas capacity was offline over the weekend just as millions of residents were relying on it most to warm their homes. That number was double the number of outages that ERCOT had planned for in a worst-case scenario, according to Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University.

The governor has issued an executive order which added emergency items to the state’s legislative session asking the legislature to investigate ERCOT’s preparation and response to the storm, CBS Dallas-Fort Worth reports

“The way ERCOT works, it’s a complex entity that is a private entity that is in charge of managing power across the state and we have to rely upon these experts to advise us what must be done,” Abbott said. 

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner has contested the assertion that ERCOT is entirely at fault. “For anybody who’s just trying to place the blame on ERCOT, that’s not enough. That’s part of the story but it’s not the total story,” Turner told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Thursday night. “ERCOT is an agency of the state, of Texas… and what happened this week is a failure not just of ERCOT but of the statewide leadership, state representatives, state senators who didn’t do enough to make the necessary structural changes to prevent what took place this week.”

Turner also noted that he introduced a bill in 2011, when he was in the state’s legislature, to ensure ERCOT had adequate reserved power to prevent blackout conditions, but the bill never made it out of committee. He told the Houston Chronicle on Friday that he has been in communication with the White House, but has not yet been contacted by Governor Abbott. 

Millions of Texans were under boil water notices Friday, and in many homes, taps were dry. Finding bottled water was nearly impossible, and some people resorted to boiling snow. Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, opened 11 sites Thursday to help give away water.

President Biden said he is making a major disaster declaration for the state that will clear the way for more federal resources, and he plans to visit at a time when he won’t be interfering with the disaster response.

The disaster declaration will unlock more Federal Emergency Management Agency resources for Texas. The president said he would sign the declaration on Friday.

Irina Ivanova contributed to this report. 

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