Dear friend –
The storm shut us all into our homes for a week (after a year of pandemic semi-isolation, no less). For millions it imposed sustained freezing cold and darkness, even lack of water, along with all the awful consequences. When the power finally came back and the artic dome at last left us to thaw, indoor water pipes burst, flooding homes and buildings, adding to the financial, physical, and emotional toll. It was the 4th-worst Texas winter storm on record.
It’s tempting to call for heads to roll. We want someone to blame for all this. But beware rolling heads, for in our overzealous search for personal fault we will almost certainly miss the larger, structural and systemic causes of failure and loss. And that leads to mistakes we can’t afford.
Which brings me back to those pipes. Why did they burst? Because they weren’t designed to accommodate or withstand subfreezing indoor temperatures. What happened with our energy system is sort of like what happened to the pipes: it wasn’t able to function in the conditions that it wasn’t designed to operate in.
Last week the House and Senate convened hearings to investigate what went wrong. For 14 hours on Thursday and 10 hours on Friday, my Senate Business & Commerce committee colleagues and I questioned witnesses from the panoply of players in the energy supply sector – ERCOT, PUC, RRC, TDUs, REPs, and other acronyms, as well as industry executives, advocates and scientists.
We have a great deal of work ahead. Much remains to be analyzed and explored. But the hearings made abundantly clear that sole blame cannot rightly be placed on a few individuals at ERCOT or the PUC or elsewhere. That’s dangerously simplistic. I’ll be working on the harder questions.