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25 Investigates: Why the Texas energy crisis got so bad and why it continues in unexpected ways

Power grid
Posted at 1:48 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 19:41:27-05

BELL COUNTY, TX — Power is back on for most Texans, who must now deal with a water crisis, lack of it, and the damage too much of it can cause.

"We have been without power since Monday 3 am," explained Sherrie Wallace, who without lights or heat, wanted answers in the middle of the Texas Deep Freeze.

Today, Wallace can cook after her power came back on over the weekend.

"Friday at 8 P.M. it finally came back on and has been on. That's almost 5 days."

Others, down the road continue to wait.

”I feel very neglected and most of my neighbors do. Oncor owes it to us, we pay our bills, you know, all of us do, to at least call us and say you know what, here's the problem in your neighborhood,” said a woman whose entire subdivision still has no power.

They couldn't get answers.... neither could we.

Not even a Southwest Power Company representative could get answers for Wallace.

”She told me 'well I thought since I worked for the power company, I could find something out, but I get the same thing you did, it's unknown',” Wallace recalled.

Where did most people get their information?

”You know channel 25. Get the local news because it was the only place giving us any kind of information,” said Wallace.

So why do so many of us wait so long to get power restored? Power companies usually restore the circuits with the most people on it first, customers out here in rural areas can wait quite a bit longer based on how many people get their power from that same circuit.

Power lines downed by crashing tree limbs also complicate getting the lights back on but there has to be enough power to connect.

When power generators of all types stopped working, the power grid almost collapsed.

”If problems do occur within ERCOT, there is a limited ability to take power from the other grids,” explained energy expert Carey King of the University of Texas at Austin.

That's because Texas has a closed system with few ways to connect outside the state.

When leaders made that decision they thought they had enough power going into the ERCOT grid.

"The grid is a system that integrates all of these technologies. Each one has pros and cons associated with it in terms of its characteristics. So yeah, we just need to understand how to how to keep the grid operating with all technologies," said King.

Something lawmakers have begun looking at, along with adjustable pricing that's left some Texans with outrageous bills.

”So we were held hostage with the rate we were working with it was really crazy,” said one man who already got hit with a $1,700 electricity bill.

It's possible Texas can dip into its rainy day fund to help pay those bills or the rest of us may have to chip in.

”Texans who have suffered through days of freezing cold without power should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills, due to due to a spike in the energy market,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

All problems former lawmakers say the state had a chance to fix after a similar storm in 2011.

”I filed a bill that would require the Public Utility Commission to ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts that is specifically what the bill said. The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” explained former Texas lawmaker and now Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Meanwhile, as Texans get their power back, they also have to deal with burst pipes and no water at all, or water they can't drink.

Customers want answers and still have trouble getting them.

”And, and I know they could cut off my power if I didn't pay my goal individually, but they seem to not be able to turn us on individually so I really want the power companies to be more responsive”

And some believe answers may take court action, similar to the $100 million lawsuit the family of Cristian Pavon, found dead in the cold, filed against Entergy and ERCOT.

Can Texans sue ERCOT for power loss? The Texas Supreme Court will determine whether ERCOT has sovereign immunity, protecting it from lawsuits, as part of a case filed in 2016 and under Supreme Court review.

Until then, we're long on promises and short on answers but we'll keep pressing to get them.