All eyes have been on Texas for the past 10 days as a “once in a lifetime” winter storm knocked out power and left millions of Texans without electricity and heat in freezing temperatures. In the days following the initial power outage Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have taken to Fox News and other media outlets to proclaim that wind turbines, renewable energy, the Green New Deal and even U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are to blame. In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Texas’s infrastructure, although unique, represents a bigger issue in the United States — its power grid is dangerously old and out of date. Texas should be seen as a warning to the rest of the country that the climate crisis is here. Being unprepared will put millions in harm’s way.
So if it wasn’t the Green New Deal or renewable energy, what actually caused the Texas power outages? That question comes with a response that is very on-brand for Texas. The contiguous 48 states have three separate power grids: Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection and Texas. Their power grid is called the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act in 1935, which gave the federal government oversight over electricity sales — but Texas, which did not want to be subject to federal regulations, adopted its own power grid. 35 years after the Federal Power Act, ERCOT was formed and tasked with managing the grid’s reliability. In short, Texas has its own electricity grid to avoid dealing with the federal government.
Those who chose to blame the Green New Deal for Texas’s power failures have already been receiving backlash for their false or misleading claims. ERCOT predicted just 7% of their anticipated winter energy capacity would come from wind power sources around the state. All energy sources have struggled during the sub-freezing temperatures in Texas, but the majority of energy production failures came from natural gas and coal plants. Blaming renewable energy, although baseless and scientifically inaccurate, is one thing. However, blaming the Green New Deal, a policy proposal that has not been implemented in Texas or federally and has yet to even be brought to the floor in Congress, is a whole other level of mental gymnastics.
Not only did Texas isolate itself from the rest of the country in terms of energy, but their officials repeatedly ignored warnings that this exact situation could happen. Ten years ago, a similar disaster struck Texas. Freezing temperatures froze natural gas wells, wind turbines and coal plants. Texas’s government and regulatory officials had the opportunity to learn from prior mistakes and winterize their energy infrastructure to prevent future statewide blackouts. However, they left the decision to prepare for cold weather up to the individual companies who passed on the upgrades, citing high cost. Texas officials, both in the public and private sector, chose to forgo infrastructure updates because of the cost, stranding millions of Texans — who had no say in the matter — without heat or water in freezing cold situations.
This infrastructure problem is not isolated to Texas. The American Society of Civil Engineers puts out a comprehensive infrastructure report card every few years grading America’s infrastructure. The most recent report from 2017 gave the U.S. a D+. This grade is unacceptable, especially in the richest country in the world.
Yet, this was not the first time it received that grade. In 2013, the U.S. also received a D+ and it was estimated that the U.S. would need to invest an estimated 3.6 trillion dollars by the year 2020 in order to upgrade its infrastructure.
It is clear that the U.S. needs to drastically modernize its infrastructure and energy systems. As climate change and rising temperatures weaken the jet stream, it is no longer strong enough to contain the polar vortex in the North Pole. This causes what is called a “wavy polar vortex,” meaning it is no longer restricted by latitude and parts of the extremely cold, low-pressure climate system dip down into typically warm areas like Texas. New regions will experience climatic events they have never experienced before and they need to be prepared.
As we see more and more of this increasing uncertainty surrounding the climate, there are only so many things that we can do as humans and as a society. One of those things is to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure so we are better prepared next time there are freezing temperatures in places where they are not usually expected. This strategy can also be flipped as colder places should similarly prepare for warmer weather. Infrastructure includes the obvious roads, bridges and tunnels but also encompasses public transportation, energy, schools, public parks and drinking water systems, among many other things. Improving these integral parts of society both structurally and to increase efficiency would create millions of jobs while making the U.S. a safer place.
As climate projections are fluid and leave room for unexpected events it is important to over prepare so that there are no situations that catch society off guard. There are no downsides to acting boldly and transforming and revitalizing our infrastructure and energy systems. The downsides come from a lack of action.
What’s going on in Texas is a wake-up call to the rest of the country to listen to experts and prepare for what is coming. Government officials have been offered a golden opportunity and they must take it, or millions of lives will be destroyed.
Alex Nobel can be reached at email@example.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.