Texas Should Move Away from Privatized Energy



The logo for energy company ERCOT. Texas using privatized energy seems to cause more harm than good, and future problems can be avoided or at least lessened if the state connects to power grids with the rest of the United States. Photo courtesy of ERCOT.

During the winter storm in February, millions of Texans suffered from power outages. Many didn’t have power for hours, or even days for a stretch. Others suffered from rolling blackouts. Texas has its own power grid separate from the rest of the U.S, using the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid. The rest of the U.S. is separated into the Western Grid and the Eastern Grid. The privatization of Texas electricity caused the suffering of millions, and the deaths of many. Texas would be much better off with its power grid connected to either the Western Interconnection or Eastern Interconnection, used by the rest of the country, as it would be helped during intense blackouts, and would be held accountable for having up to date equipment. 

Texas created its own power grid starting in 1941. Called the Texas Interconnection System, it was created in response to the 1935 Federal Power Act, which gave  the federal government authority to regulate electricity transfer between states. Texas having its own power grid meant that it could avoid this federal regulation as all the electricity was being transferred within Texas. ERCOT came about in 1970, in response to what is to be considered the worst power outage in the nation’s history in 1965, and the new federal regulations that came as a result of it, such as coordinating system planning and operation. ERCOT still operates out of reach of federal regulations. While ERCOT itself doesn’t provide the energy, multiple private energy companies do, and ERCOT just monitors the activity, dictating how the power from these companies is rolled out.

Texas legislature deregulated energy in 1999, which gave Texans the option of choosing their supplier. This increased competition between utility and energy suppliers for rates and plans. ERCOT manages the market between these private providers. California experimented with deregulated companies back in the 1990s, as it was thought to provide lots of choice and help lower costs. However, by the early 2000s, this plan failed, as there were higher costs and more power outages. Regulating a competitive energy market when energy is a necessity is highly unethical. By toying with people’s needs, lives are at risk when they either can’t or can barely afford a basic necessity. 

With competition in the energy market in Texas, there is little financial incentive to fund weather protection and maintenance for the equipment. The technology isn’t exactly built for the cold, such as wind turbines not having de-icing structures, and limited insulation in power lines. Additionally, with the market, companies offer different options for energy plans. In this past storm, customers that chose variable-rate plans ended up having massive bills at the end. 

While it is true that there are other states with deregulated electricity, they are a part of larger interconnections, so if something fails, they can always get power from somewhere else. In larger power grids, like the Eastern and Western Interconnections, power can be sourced from one region to another if the one needs it more. For example, if it’s colder in one state compared to another, then the electricity can be supplied from the warmer state to keep heaters running in the colder state. Many power plants were iced in Texas, and as a result, stopped working. Texas couldn’t get power from other states because it wasn’t part of a bigger interconnection. It had to rely on other parts of Texas, which wasn’t really helpful as they didn’t have much electricity either. There are minor connections to the other power grids- however, it wasn’t enough to cover the recent blackouts. Texas not being connected to other states means that it has nowhere to turn to if energy providers aren’t able to provide electricity. 

Texas has already seen signs of failure in its regulation system. This February wasn’t the only February Texas has had a bad winter storm. There was a big snowstorm exactly 10 years ago, in February 2011. Following that storm, officials recommended winter protections for generating facilities, but those recommendations weren’t exactly followed as they weren’t mandated. In fact, winter protections were suggested even before that, when Texas had a serious winter storm in 1989. Again, back then, the recommendations for winter protection weren’t heeded, and weren’t mandated. That led to the incident happening again in 2011, and very recently this February. Furthermore, following the storm, many ERCOT board members resigned, avoiding accountability. If ERCOT joined either the Western or Eastern interconnection, they would be held accountable by federal regulations to update equipment, and prevent severe blackouts in future winter storms. 

With the resulting lack of power, many Texans turned to alternate sources for heating, such as grills and campfire stoves. This resulted in at least 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning as of Tuesday, Feb. 16. Unconventional heating methods also caused fires in homes, risking many lives. Additionally, there were individuals who needed electricity for medical devices, such as feeding pumps and insulin, that weren’t able to function properly due to the power outages such as insulin spoiling due to lack of refrigeration. If Texas power wasn’t deregulated and most importantly, separated, many people wouldn’t have had to suffer the results of alternative heating, faulty medications, and other survival problems that came as a result of power outages. Power from other states could have come in to help people in Texas. 

Texas should join a larger power grid. In times of dire need, other states will be able to supply power, which would prevent the many injuries and deaths that happened as a result of the power outages. Additionally, Texas would be held accountable for changing parts of its system to be more up to date with federal regulations, which would help prevent future blackouts in future disasters. There are people worried about not having a choice when it comes to providers if Texas joins a grid, but there can still be multiple providers. In fact, having providers would be much safer if Texas joins a bigger grid, because if Texas energy fails, then power can be sourced from other places.