For first time in a week, Texas no longer top of states with most outages

For the first time in nearly a week, Texas is not topping the list of states with the most power outages. Sunday morning, Texas stood at 26,757 customers without power, that number being less than four other states: Mississippi, West Virginia, Oregon, and Kentucky -- with Mississippi topping the list at 39,814.

Still, that number is nowhere near Texas' peak last Tuesday morning of 4,437,942.

How could this happen in a state that is the nation's biggest energy producer and home to several of the world's biggest energy companies?

The disaster can be traced to mistakes by Texas' leadership and faults created by decades of opposition to more regulations and preparation.

Basically, the state is an island in the U.S. electrical system.

There is one large grid covering the Eastern half of the country, another for the West, with Texas wedged between them. There is a long and colorful history to how this came to be, but the simplest explanation is that Texas utilities wanted to be free of federal regulation. They accomplished that, going back to the middle of the last century, by avoiding sending power across state lines.

The Texas grid isn't walled off, but there are only a few, small interconnection points with the Eastern U.S. grid and Mexico. In the past, utility executives have argued that the Texas grid would be less reliable and more vulnerable to blackouts if it were fully connected to the rest of the country, which would make it easier for other states to tap Texas during their own shortages.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, was created in 1970. It became a more powerful broker over electricity flows after deregulation in this century. In the wake of the storm, it has taken most of the blame from Texas politicians and the public, losing trust with predictions that failed to capture the depth of the crisis and posting jargon-heavy tweets about power generation that were hard for anyone without a degree in engineering to decipher. Critics have noted some of ERCOT's board does not live in Texas and that CEO Bill Magness makes more than $800,000 a year.
Standing in Harris County's emergency management center early Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she and other officials realized "that we couldn't just take the words from ERCOT at face value."

"They kept telling us that more power generation was coming online, only to send more orders to utilities to cut people off power," she said Thursday.

Despite efforts by some Republicans to blame clean energy, the failures occurred in every part of the sector. While wind turbines and solar panels froze, a major nuclear plant lost half of its generation, and there were massive failures in coal, oil, and natural gas. Demand surged, meanwhile, as people accustomed to mild Texas winters turned on their heat.

In 2011, millions of Texans lost power during the Super Bowl, which was played in a Dallas suburb. Two agencies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, conducted a study on how Texas could "winterize" its energy infrastructure. At the highest end, winterizing 50,000 gas wells would cost an estimated $1.75 billion, the study found.

Of the 2011 storm, the report said: "Generators and natural gas producers suffered severe losses of capacity despite having received accurate forecasts of the storm. Entities in both categories report having winterization procedures in place. However, the poor performance of many of these generating units and wells suggests that these procedures were either inadequate or were not adequately followed."

But there was no broad move to winterize equipment. Since then, bills requiring energy producers to hold more power in reserve or ordering a study of how to better prepare for winter failed in the Republican-controlled Texas House.

Texas lawmakers deregulated the energy market in 2002. Supporters say this lowered energy prices statewide, but critics say it gave producers leeway to avoid improvements that might have prevented events like this week's catastrophe.
The energy industry remains a political powerhouse. More than $26 million of Gov. Greg Abbott's contributions have come from the oil and gas industry, more than any other economic sector, according to an analysis by the National Institute on Money in Politics.

In a Fox News interview, Abbott blamed this week's fiasco on green energy, an assertion for which he was sharply criticized. At other points, Abbott noted failures across the energy industry. But others among the Republican leadership continued to tweet condemnations of green energy or support for natural gas.

President of the Texas Oil & Gas Association Todd Staples declined an interview request but issued a statement saying the industry was "steadfastly committed to doing our part to help Texas recover."

Abbott has promised multiple investigations of this storm and made ERCOT an "emergency" item for the Legislature, which is currently in its biennial session.

"I think there is going to have to be a serious inquiry into why it was, what were the factors that led the grid not to be able to meet the energy needs of Texas," said Sen. Ted Cruz.

Cruz had cut short a trip to Cancun, Mexico, after images circulated of him waiting at a Houston airport for his flight to the resort town. A group of protesters in Houston has been calling on Cruz to resign since January.

Since then, he has spent the weekend helping residents recover from the winter storm.

SEE RELATED STORY: Sen. Ted Cruz volunteers during Houston's winter storm recovery this weekend

The video above is from a previous story.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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