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Texas was roiled by similar rolling outages almost 10 years ago exactly. Then, as now, a punishing cold snap caused electricity use to spike even as several plants went off line.

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What happened and why? This week’s massive blackout has the state’s top political leaders demanding answers. And the state’s primary power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, may find itself in the legislative crosshairs.

GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT

Gov. Greg Abbott declared Tuesday that “reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT would be an “emergency” priority during the ongoing legislative session. Under the declaration, the governor’s office has directed lawmakers to investigate ERCOT in order to “ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days.”

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Gov. Abbott said in statement, released 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.”

HOUSE COMMITTEES

Similarly, House Speaker Dade Phelan has requested a joint hearing by the House State Affairs Committee and the House Energy Resources Committee. The committees will conduct the joint hearing on Feb. 25, according to the Speaker’s request.

“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues, and what steps regulators and grid operators are taking to safeguard our electric grid,” Phelan wrote in a statement Tuesday.

IN THE SENATE

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the head of the Texas Senate, also announced that that chamber’s Business & Commerce Committee would hold hearings.  “Millions of people without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable,” Patrick said in a statement.

This week’s historic deep freeze led to power outages for more than 4 million Texans. According to ERCOT, more than a third of the system’s total generating capacity went offline even as the state hit new winter electricity usage records.

Almost ten years ago a punishing cold snap caused similar rolling outages. Then, as now, electricity use spiked even as several plants went off line.  As with this year’s outages, the 2011 event also led to legislative inquiries.

 

— R.A. Dyer