If you’re reading this, it means that you have electricity, which is more than many Texans experienced earlier this year. Starting back on February 13, 2021, Winter Storm Uri hit the state of Texas like a frozen sledgehammer. According to Forbes, at the peak of the storm, 4.5 million homes and businesses lost power, 111 people were killed, and infrastructure damages amount to $195 billion. A survey presented to 1,500 people in the aftermath of this disaster revealed that 68% of Texans experienced power interruptions and 30% experienced damage to their homes as a result. But why exactly did this happen? To answer this question, we need to go back a few decades.
The legacy of Texas energy is one of tenacity, arrogance, and greed. When most people think of Texas, they likely imagine heat, cowboys, country music, guns (a topic for another day *wipes brow*), but also oil and gas production. Texas is the United States’ largest producer of gasoline and cotton and has a tremendous market share of natural gas production as well. To solidify this legacy, in 1999 the state legislators voted to deregulate the power grid and move to a free market-based patchwork of private companies. The purpose was to reduce the cost of power to consumers by providing more competition on the market. However, by deregulating, the industry did not establish rules for safeguards on operation or price ceilings, and there was no incentive for companies to establish their own. So, when the winter storm of 2011 hit the state and caused massive blackouts, nothing was done to protect the system from future disasters.
Ten years later, Uri hit the state even harder, and the power grid was decimated by the extreme freezing temperatures. Without enforced rules, no pipes were insulated, wellheads and instruments were not heated, and wind power turbine blades were not winterized to prevent freezing. The state did have some natural gas reserves, but they could not be utilized because they run on electricity. The entire state was at the mercy of the storm. However, the effects were exacerbated when the price of electricity sky-rocketed by the massively decreased supply and rising demand. Reuters reported that costs topped at approximately 400 times the seasonal rate for variable-rate contracts. For example, Energy Transfer utility company expects to gain $2.4 billion from the storm price surge.
This is capitalism run amok. Other states were able to get power from neighbouring states to control the price explosion, but Texas decided decades ago to be completely independent from the neighbouring power grids. As a result, they had frozen pipes, no usable reserves of natural gas, and no external resources to provide relief. Texas was truly alone in this battle. Pure capitalism free markets with zero government regulation are dangerous because greed and power (no pun intended) dominate, and when things fall apart, the companies are rarely held accountable. According to the survey mentioned earlier, 62% of respondents blame the outages on lack of winterization of the power generators, and 45% want the utility companies to pay for the winterization protection. The power production quality was cheap and unsafe; too cheap to be reliable.
Socialized laws with price ceilings and regulations by the government would help hold these companies accountable for the product they are selling. But right-leaning government legislators demonize the word “socialized” by propagandizing it as communism. It is time for people to wake up and realize they already have several socialized programs in place like social insurance for example. Texas Governor Greg Abbott blamed the disaster on lack of capacity from renewable energy sources, but that was a deflection and unfair strike at climate change activists. When the state legislators are financially backed by the energy industry’s profits, a closed feedback loop will ensure that nothing changes. Without new political representation in the state legislature, this process will continue, and the grid will likely remain unregulated and unprotected. Climate change scientists have warned that these massive fluctuations in weather storms will continue to increase, so unless winterization happens, the next winter storm could send Texas back to the 19th century.