WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that a House panel would examine the power issues in Texas after a deadly storm knocked out power to millions.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning to probe the issues that led up to the blackout that left millions in the dark and bitter cold this week amid an unprecedented winter storm that buried the state in snow and ice and brought single-degree temperatures, Pelosi said at her weekly news conference Thursday.
Pelosi, D-Calif., added the panel would “look into it to see how things could have turned out better and will turn out better in the future.”
Pelosi noted the needs of those in Texas, highlighting certain measures that lawmakers in the state are pressing for, such as immediate help with clean drinking water after pipes burst across the state, small business relief and flexibility for SNAP and food assistance help. President Joe Biden also approved a disaster declaration in the state, allowing FEMA to send generators, blankets and other supplies.
“It’s a question of needing water and food and energy and vaccines and the rest, we really have to be on top of that and hope that there would be some preparation for the future,” Pelosi said. “This was, in many ways, predictable.”
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Texas’ power grid is different than other states. The U.S. has three power grids: one covers the eastern U.S., another the western states and one that is used by the state of Texas, a grid that covers nearly the entire state.
The grid has been thrust into the national spotlight with questions as extreme energy demand and overloaded frozen utility plants contributed to widespread power outages across Texas, experts said.
The breakdown sparked growing outrage and demands for answers over how Texas – whose Republican leaders as recently as last year taunted California over the Democratic-led state’s rolling blackouts – failed such a massive test of a major point of state pride: energy independence. And it cut through politics, as fuming Texans took to social media to highlight how while their neighborhoods froze in the dark Monday night, downtown skylines glowed despite desperate calls to conserve energy.
At the most basic level, the outages in Texas have been caused because demand amid the bitter cold has outpaced the supply of energy used to heat and power homes, said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.
A combination of mostly natural gas, some coal and a nuclear power plant failed to meet customers’ demand, Cohan said.
Nearly 4.5 million customers went without electricity Tuesday, and by Wednesday over 3.3 million Texans still didn’t have the lights turned on, according to poweroutage.us.
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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, manages about 90% of the state’s power for 26 million customers.
During a news conference Tuesday, representatives from ERCOT said there were 45,000 megawatts offline. Of that, 15,000 megawatts were wind and 30,000 were gas and coal.
Supply fell short by about 34,000 megawatts (MW) of energy, according to ERCOT. For comparison, when ERCOT restored 2,500 MW on Monday, that was enough power to serve 500,000 households.
The winter storms haven’t only caused headaches in Texas. Across the U.S, more than 1.1 million people had no electricity: Louisiana, Alabama and Oregon experienced widespread outages.
As many as 36 people have died this week. Traffic accidents have claimed the most lives, but some have died as a result of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning while struggling to find warmth inside their homes.
Contributing: Ryan Miller, USA TODAY; Asher Price, Austin American-Statesman