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Who’s to Blame? Rolling Blackouts don’t last 30 hours or more

Residents in Hidalgo County who use both Magic Valley and AEP as their electric provider were reporting Tuesday afternoon that their electricity has been completely shut off for more than 24 hours. Some Valley municipal water plants were still running off of generators Tuesday afternoon, meaning water pressure was nearly pressure was nearly nil at many homes and businesses, adding to the woes felt across the RGV, compliments of this new cold wave from Hell (an oxymoron, okay) that has wreaked havoc on the state’s power grid and the people who depend on it to stay up and running.

It will take a while to sort out all the puzzle pieces: what really caused such a huge disaster in such cold, cold times? People stuck at home without heat for 24 to 36 hours in some cases, with outside temps stuck below 32 degrees throughout most of Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 16). Granted, this brutal cold wave that hit the RGV late Sunday night was expected, but was everything done on a statewide basis to prepare for it? Or was the state in simply a reactive mode?

This winter storm and subsequent power outage may be like the old canard: Nothing ever gets done until a big emergency hits.

Odd part about it are some of the power grids. The Advance spoke to one Edinburg resident, for example, who said that the third house down from his, on the same block, had power, as did the houses moving further down the same row of homes. His house, though, has now been without power for more than 30 hours (as of Tuesday afternoon).

Governor Abbott, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) will now be named as an emergency item this legislative session. ERCOT’s in charge of running the state’s power grid.

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”

So already, it would appear that the governor is trying to scapegoat ERCOT and the people who run it. What will be interesting in the days, weeks to come, is what ERCOT will have to say about all of this once the ice is cleared and heat restored.

Why and how the electric grid got overloaded is a question that will hopefully be answered, but given the state’s propensity for non-transparency in governmental affairs (just an opinion), the question becomes: will Texans ever know why the state wasn’t prepared for such a severe winter storm that left approximately six million homes without heat?

At first, ERCOT, along with Magic Valley and AEP, started calling these power outages “Rolling Blackouts,” until someone in the media made the comment that by definition, a Rolling Blackout, used as a means by which the electric grid will stay up and running, usually lasts no more than an hour. In other words, shut down this section of town for an hour, then turn theirs back on, and move to the next grid (section of town) for an hour. What doesn’t define a Rolling Blackout is when entire parts of a city, a county, remain without power for 24 to 36 hours. That’s a strong Blackout. Period.

“Hey, let’s all go sleep over at grannie’s house. She’s got heat. No, we don’t have COVID.”

Come on, God, we can only handle so much misery at once.

A story published at Time. com indicated that the main factors behind these Blackouts, according to a senior director at ERCOT, included frozen instruments at natural gas, coal, and nuclear facilities, as well as limited supplies of natural gas. The move toward using more wind and solar energy as opposed to fossil fuels wasn’t the reason behind the Blackouts, according to the same ERCOT official mentioned in the Time. com story. Okay, but frozen instruments? Seriously? No way to, you know, protect said instruments from the cold?

In that same story, a research associate with UT-Austin said that the simple answer is: Grid demand is so much higher than we’ve really built the system for in the wintertime.

More brilliant planning at the state level.

You know what else may be assumed: a lot more people are moving to Texas these days, or at least up until the advent of the pandemic. Probably still are. In fact, between 2018 and 2019, the population of Texas grew by approximately 367,000 people, according to U.S. Census data. Has the state kept up with the state’s population growth over the past 10 years?

Abbott may be trying to scapegoat ERCOT, but at the end of the day, who is supposed to be leading the business of this state if not the governor? With more than a dozen people already dead, people in the RGV living through miserable conditions, someone’s going to be asking questions once power is restored, even though later this week (Thursday and Friday) the temperature is once again supposed to dip below freezing.

It’s hard to listen to people’s stories this week – “I’ve been without power now for 30 hours” – without asking the question: Couldn’t all of this somehow have been prevented?

Then again, this winter storm has to be historic in some sense. After all, how often has the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for all of Texas’s 254 counties? That’s a lot of ground to cover for one brutal storm.

We’re going to end up with damage to ornamental plants, but at least most of the citrus fruit has already been harvested. What citrus growers are waiting to determine now is, has this brutal cold wave damaged the trees? We had a miserable freeze in December of 1983. Then the follow-up freeze in 1989 that really put a lot of citrus growers out of business. Let’s hope the remaining growers make it through this miserable weather. Too many citrus orchards have already been paved over during the last 30 years.

Stay warm, and good luck. Remember to keep water faucets dripping when the mercury dips below 32. Busted water pipes are a hassle.

What doesn’t define a Rolling Blackout is when entire parts of a city, a county, remain without power for 24 to 36 hours. That’s a strong Blackout. Period.

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