February 19, 2021 – Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX), and Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) wrote to Texas Governor Greg Abbott today demanding answers for the life-threatening winter weather crisis that has left Texans in the dark without power, heat, food, water, and medicine for multiple successive days.
The lawmakers voiced concern that underlying issues identified in a comprehensive 2011 report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) following an earlier major winter storm in Texas have not been adequately addressed.
“The events of this week demonstrate that there are significant shortcomings in preparations and more must be done to protect communities disproportionately impacted by winter power outages,” the five lawmakers wrote to Governor Abbott. “We are concerned that the underlying issues that contributed to the 2011 massive power failure have not been fully addressed.”
According to reports, there have been at least ten weather-related fatalities in Texas since Sunday resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, cold temperatures, or car accidents. Millions of other Texans have suffered without reliable heat, power, or safe drinking water, with nearly seven million people reportedly being advised to boil water for safety at one point and water supply shortages risking the health of patients at Austin-area hospitals. More than 4.3 million customers lost power during peak outages, with historically marginalized and low-income communities among the first to lose power.
The lawmakers questioned Governor Abbott’s response to the crisis, noting that he made troubling statements as to the causes of the widespread power failures when he said that wind and solar shutdowns were the problem, suggesting the crisis proved the value of fossil fuels. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) clarified that “a lot of the generation that has gone offline…has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system.”
“These statements either suggest a lack of understanding of the Texas power grid’s fundamental operations or were an attempt to shift blame away from the very real issues that have existed within the state’s energy structure for years,” the five lawmakers continued in their letter to Governor Abbott. “The response to this ongoing crisis raises significant questions regarding Texas’ grid design, preparation, and whether the state is taking appropriate action to aid citizens in this crisis. With scientists predicting that extreme weather events could become more frequent in the future due to climate change, it is critical that Texas and other states apply lessons from earlier emergency events in order to increase the strength and resiliency of the grid and prevent future blackouts.”
The five lawmakers requested answers to a wide series of questions, including:
- What is the timeline for restoring power in all areas of the State, and what steps are being taken to ensure that power will remain available once restored?
- What is the current number of fatalities linked to the winter storm event, and how many of those are linked to loss of electric power or safe drinking water?
- What is the current understanding of how different sources of power generation performed during this event?
- Would increased connection with the rest of the country’s power grid have allowed Texas to import more power during this crisis?
- What will be the scope of your proposed investigation into ERCOT, and what entities will be responsible for the investigation to ensure it is independent and adequately resourced?
- A 2011 winter weather event led to similar statewide power failures, and the subsequent report by FERC and NERC made several recommendations for improving the resiliency of Texas’ energy infrastructure. To what extent did Texas require energy providers to adopt or implement these recommendations? Why did Texas fail to mandate the recommended energy infrastructure upgrades?
Read the full letter HERE.