Federal report shows Texas power grid is still vulnerable to collapse

On Oct. 25, a new federal report concluded — again — that the Texas power grid is still not ready for extreme weather this winter. This means that Texas could see a repeat of last year’s winter storm, which caused hundreds of unnecessary deaths as the carelessness and inhumanity of the capitalist system was put on display.

The report, conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, concluded that despite Governor Greg Abbott’s claim that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid,” the grid has only marginally improved from its standing last year. Marginal improvement, however, is not enough for the workers who are forced to bear the brunt of this negligence.

During the winter storm of Feb. 21, 2021, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas ordered energy providers to cut off up to 20,000 megawatts of energy to consumers in order to avoid a total shutdown of the grid. This loss of power turned the lights off for millions of Texans who went without power, heat and water. Pipes burst from freezing temperatures and poorly insulated homes struggled to hold any heat.

On top of this, the capitalists at the helm of this disaster profited immensely from death and scarcity. Despite not having any power, electricity bills for Texans skyrocketed due to price gouging, forcing them to pay for the failures of the private energy sector. An energy company executive described the perfect storm of terrible conditions as “like hitting the jackpot.”

Because many residents pay with variable-rate electricity bills, when the demand for electricity goes up, so does the bill. This system allows for such absurd cases as spiking electricity bills even when there was no electricity available to be used. Many cities such as San Antonio, Houston and Austin have also seen rate hikes from various electrical companies who have decided once again to push the burden of rising energy prices onto the people least able to pay.

Liberation screenshot from Twitter video
Image from the February storm of 2021. Liberation screenshot from Twitter video

But the massive rate hikes and disaster profiteering have not amounted to any major infrastructure improvement. The grid is largely in the same shape as before. Abbott has focused on increasing the generating capacity of the Texas power grid under ideal conditions by offering obscene tax incentives to speculative cryptocurrency miners, hoping that they will voluntarily shut off their operations in times of crisis.

Courting crypto miners has not worked to save the grid during shortages this summer, and there is no reason to believe it will work in the future. This summer, Texas paid one Bitcoin miner more in tax incentives to turn its machines off — $9.5 million in July alone — than that company would have made mining Bitcoin.

The FERC report estimates that under conditions like the freeze experienced last year, the demand for electricity could exceed the power grid’s capacity by 18,000 to 20,000 megawatts. One megawatt is enough electricity to power 200 homes during periods of high demand, meaning the Texas power grid will not have the capacity to power 3 to 4 million homes during these extreme weather conditions. The actual number may be far worse. In the 2021 storm, much of the available power was diverted to empty stadiums and brightly lit downtown office buildings while entire working-class residential neighborhoods were shut off.

This lack of power not only makes things miserable for Texans sitting in cold, dark, powerless homes, but will also prove deadly in another winter freeze. The official death toll of last year’s winter storm given by the state is 246. An investigative report by Buzzfeed News using excess deaths analysis determined that the real number could be over 700.

Rather than focusing on improving the power grid and preparing for this upcoming winter based on the findings of the FERC report, the Public Utility Commission of Texas has spent its time pointing out trivial inaccuracies within the original report. FERC then published an updated report which reached the exact same conclusion as the previous — that Texas is not prepared for another winter storm.

The entire Texas energy grid could be winterized for just $85 to $200 million, the equivalent of one or two days’ revenue for the oil and gas industry. Exxon Mobil receives $5 billion in public funding, and is currently working with the state of Texas on a $100 billion carbon capture “innovation zone.”

This money could be used to convert the power grid to wind and solar energy, which greatly outperformed their fossil fuel counterparts during the last storm, and to winterize all existing power infrastructure. Instead, that money cycles between state government officials in charge of “regulating” this system and energy corporations, a corrupt kickback system that is legalized in the United States as “lobbying.”

Abbott, who directly appoints the board of the PUC which regulates the energy grid, has received millions of dollars in donations from the energy industry. Meanwhile, the Texas energy industry is largely allowed to self-regulate, postpone or cancel infrastructure improvements, and continue making billions from price gouging. Until this disastrous capitalist system of energy profiteering is uprooted, the next deadly catastrophe in Texas isn’t a matter of if, but when.

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