Blog Post

Insight: The Freeze in Texas

By: Tom Holst

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

The February winter storm that blanketed snow on the U.S. put a spotlight on our nation’s electricity grid. While the grid functioned in surrounding states, it failed in Texas, causing 4 million households to go without power and many to lose access to safe drinking water.

Electric power is produced by energy sources ranging from nuclear to fossil fuels to renewables. More importantly, the electricity grid of transformers, substations, and power lines connects electricity producers with electricity consumers.

What caused failure in the Texas electricity grid while other states maintained functioning grids? The U.S. electricity grid operates in three segments shown in Figure 1. Of the contiguous 48 states, Texas is the only state with a standalone electricity grid. When Texas power generation fails, the state cannot import electricity from outside its borders.

Figure 1: United States Electricity Grid

Why did the Texas grid fail? Texas politicians initially blamed renewable energy sources, such as wind, for the blackouts. However, wind accounts for only 23% of Texas’s electricity generation (see Figure 2). Natural gas, coal, and nuclear should have filled the generation gap. While wind turbines in Texas did freeze, so did equipment at natural gas operations, one nuclear plant, and transmission lines.

Figure 2: Electricity Sources in Texas

Source: Electric Reliability Council of Texas

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the Texas grid, did not forecast increased e