Howard and Nena Mamu eat dinner at their home by candle light after power companies performed rotating outages in Glenwood neighborhood in Hutto, Texas February 16, 2021. Picture taken February 16, 2021. Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman/USA Today Network via REUTERS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

As millions of Texans lost heat and electricity amid frigid temperatures, conservatives incorrectly placed the blame on renewable energy despite coal, natural gas and nuclear facilities causing more than half of the power loss.

At least 25 people died in weather-related fatalities over the weekend, the majority in Texas. Electric heating demand overwhelmed the power grid, which was already partially knocked out by the extreme weather. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) instituted rolling blackouts to meet demand, causing electricity prices to spike to nearly six times from the previous day. Texans also faced information blackouts as well, as users reported outages in internet and cell phone coverage. 

There are three power grids in the contiguous U.S.: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and Texas. Utilities in Texas began linking themselves together during WWI; by maintaining those links within the state lines, Texas avoided federal regulation. Because the power grid does not perfectly align with Texas’ borders, some areas of the state, like El Paso and the upper panhandle, are not on the grid and therefore did not lose power. Unbeholden to federal rules, ERCOT doesn’t require nor can it force its electricity generators to cold-proof their plants.

While more than four million Texans went without electricity, city skylines and wealthy neighborhoods blazed bright against the darkness, igniting furor from residents. State officials did not have a specific timeline for when power would be available, but Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that efforts are advancing. Texas officials put the blame on ERCOT and called for investigations into the power company.

Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke blamed Republican leadership, including Gov. Abbott, for not taking action to prevent the power outages. 

“While they focused on bathroom bills, “show me your papers” legislation and fighting with sports teams over the Star Spangled Banner, 30 million Texans were left vulnerable to uncontrolled COVID spread, a bungled vaccine rollout and now this “rolling” power blackout,” O’Rourke said on Twitter.

Gov. Abbott falsely told Sean Hannity that renewable energy failures were the reason for power outages and asserted there would be similar issues under a Green New Deal supported by many progressives and President Joe Biden’s administration. Other conservatives spread the claim over the news and social media, citing frozen wind turbines as proof that “the experiment failed big time.” While some wind turbines did freeze during the storm, failures at natural gas, coal and nuclear facilities caused more than 60% of power loss compared to the 39% loss accounted for by wind and solar, officials with ERCOT said Wednesday.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested that going without power is a sacrifice that Texans should be willing to make if it means federal regulations won’t be placed on the state’s power grid. When residents of Colorado City, Texas, asked for resources via Facebook, Mayor Tim Boyd said in a now-deleted post that the government does not owe citizens anything, adding, “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!” Boyd later apologized and resigned. Social media chastised Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for heading to Cancun Wednesday while Cruz remained uncharacteristically silent on Twitter. Cruz reportedly bought a ticket home for Thursday, but not before CancunCruz and FlyinTed trended on Twitter.

Scammers took advantage of the dire situation by posing as electricity workers on social media and asking people to text their private account information. ERCOT warned customers that the company doesn’t need personal information to get power back on. The Federal Trade Commission noted that scammers tend to surface in almost every instance of human suffering.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

This section includes an aggregation of articles showing different viewpoints on the topic.

‘Those in power have failed us’: Twitter reacts as El Paso escapes outages, but Texas suffers – El Paso Times – 2/17/2021
El Paso escaped the massive power outages seen in much of Texas this week mostly because El Paso Electric is not part of the Texas power grid. The Texas grid had massive power outages due to power plant problems caused by extremely cold temperatures. […] Here’s what Twitter had to say Wednesday morning on El Paso not suffering from outages and the Texas blackouts.

Winter Storm Leaves Texans in the Cold and Dark, Sparking Political Debate on Renewable Energy – EcoWatch – 2/17/2021
While Texans suffer from freezing temperatures and extensive power outages, frozen wind turbines are being used as a ploy to spread skepticism on the reliability of renewable energy. […] Yet while some experts used the dire conditions to urge the state to adopt more climate-resilient energy systems, a few conservative commentators used the example of frozen wind turbines to encourage distrust of renewable energy systems in a state largely dependent on natural gas.

No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages – The Texas Tribune – 2/16/2021
Frozen wind turbines in Texas caused some conservative state politicians to declare Tuesday that the state was relying too much on renewable energy. But in reality, the wind power was expected to make up only a fraction of what the state had planned for during the winter.

Lawmakers spin Texas blackouts, demand federal scrutiny – E&E News – 2/17/2021
Congressional lawmakers are demanding answers on how Texas’ electric grid failed nearly 4.5 million people who remained without power yesterday amid frigid temperatures. Statements from some House Democrats, including from Texas, suggest Congress may seek more federal oversight of the nation’s most independent grid operator.

What Texas’ Blackout Crisis Says About America’s Energy Future – Conservative Review – 2/16/2021
Texas’ current energy crisis brought on by an intense winter storm should send a message to the Biden administration and others who have argued energy in America’s near future is an energy economy solely reliant on renewables.

Blackouts In Texas And California Teach A Hard Lesson: Climate Change Is Costly – Forbes – 2/16/2021
As climate change worsens extreme weather events, we should expect more of these failures. Aging infrastructure built around 20th century weather patterns will be continually tested by the more extreme weather now becoming commonplace. Reliability plans based off similar assumption sets will need to be reworked entirely.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

This section includes an aggregation of tweets showing different viewpoints on the topic.

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