February 19, 2021

The AP reported Thursday that Texas was “seconds and minutes” away from an even greater catastrophe when the decision was made to bring in what were supposed to be rolling blackouts.  Officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said when a winter storm took more than half of its winter generating capacity offline early Monday operators had to act fast to prevent a worst-case scenario.  That scenario would have disabled substations, leaving many Texans without power for months.  Even with the action, so much power generation was knocked offline that the blackouts continue for some.  By Thursday, 325,000 homes and businesses were without power.  When Senior ERCOT director Dan Woodfin was asked how regulators could stop this from happening again, he said one of the biggest problems was natural gas wellheads freezing.  Winterization of the wellheads was recommended after the same thing happened over a decade ago.  Obviously, ERCOT had failed to act.

The intense cold Texas is experiencing is the result of an Arctic Inversion, and the Arctic inversion is related to the snow and ice surfaces in the area.  Melting ice and snow allow the cold air to rush down across North America while warmer air moves north.  Most scientists blame the cause of the melt on rising greenhouse gases.  The US had committed to combat this problem as part of the Paris climate accord of 2016.  The last administration pulled out of the accord, but Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office reversing the previous executive order.  The withdrawal from the Paris accord was announced in 2019 but it did not become effective until Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election.  The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday the importance of the American re-entry is a “political message that’s being sent.”  So was our failure to act.

At least 27,000 Houston natural gas customers received email notifications Thursday that their CenterPoint Energy bill was ready, and that it was $202,102.16.  The same customers who were trying to survive without heat during the power outage were billed six figures for the heat they do not have.  The utility said the power outage caused a computer problem and assured everyone that the bills were a mistake.  In an apologetic statement CenterPoint said, “Customers do not owe this amount, and it will not be drafted from their account.”  The company failed again.

Thoughts:  While “Failure is Not an Option” is a phrase associated with Gene Kranz and the Apollo 13 Moon landing, he never said it.  It instead came from the script writers for the movie based on the event.   When they interviewed Kranz they asked if there were times when people panicked.  His response was, “No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them.”  the writers changed this to, “Failure is not an option.”  Both the utility companies and government had been warned these events would happen but failed to act.  When the freeze happened, the leaders claim it is just a 500-year event.  Texas has faced a growing number of 500-year events this last decade, and they are increasing in intensity.  If we do not take steps now, we are assured this trend will continue.  Failure is not an option.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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