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Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says power crisis in Texas could happen anywhere in the country

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm is entering the job as much of the country rebounds from severe weather that stressed utilities and ultimately crippled Texas' independent power grid. 

Granholm, who was confirmed and sworn in Thursday, told CBS News that the crisis in Texas "is one example of what we're going to continue to see over and over."

Extreme cold and ice were more than Texas' power grid could handle, paralyzing coal, gas, nuclear, wind and solar plants across the state, leaving more than 30 million residents without power, heat, and running water. The crisis accentuated the reality that Texas's energy infrastructure was not built to withstand arctic cold — the type of extreme conditions that are expected to become more frequent due to climate change

One estimate predicts accumulated damages from the crisis could cost as much as $295 billion — more than Hurricanes Harvey and Ike combined. 

Granholm called it a "climate disaster" and warned that similar events will continue to accelerate in frequency and impact if grids are not adapted and greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. 

Vice President Harris Swears-In Jennifer Granholm As Energy Secretary
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm participates in a ceremonial swearing-in with Vice President Kamala Harris on February 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Holding the Bible at center is Granholm's husband, Dan Mulhern.  Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Shortly after her swearing in, Granholm appeared in a video on the U.S. Department of Energy's social media platforms explaining how the department plans to combat the climate crisis and transition to clean energy, in keeping with the Biden administration's goal of having a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. 

Most of the U.S. is powered from two major power grids, while Texas has its own independent system that is not regulated by the federal government. But according to Granholm, the entire country is at risk of experiencing a Texas-sized disaster. 

"We need to make significant investments in upgrading our transmission grids," said Granholm.  "We haven't invested in making sure that this grid is reliable."

"We've got 5 million miles of distribution wires across the country, 250,000 miles of high speed, high voltage transmission wires, and those are all vulnerable, both from a weather perspective, a climate perspective, but also from a national security perspective. And so we need to harden the grid, we need to add clean energy to the grid to get to our goals, and all of that's going to require a significant upgrade to our grid infrastructure."

Granholm said that upgrade is going to come from Congress after the second COVID relief bill is passed, in the form of a "jobs package" that will "include a significant contribution" to weatherizing and fortifying grid infrastructure.   

However, in Texas, the grid operates separately from federal regulation. Despite that, Granholm told CBS News that the Department of Energy can still play a role in the state's recovery. She believes Texas should end its energy independence and connect "in some way'' with the Eastern and Western U.S. grids to share and backstop resources. In order for that to occur, the Texas state Legislature would have to enact the change.

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Granholm says that while Texas has to take steps to weatherize its grid, the Department of Energy is ready to integrate the state's system into the rest of the country's.

"Texas has to want to have the help in some way, shape or form. So, I would say that we are offering, to Texas, the ability to accept help by connecting to the grid," she said. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and has vowed to fortify the state's grid but has not backed joining the national grid.

Early in the crisis, Abbott also falsely blamed the blackouts on failures of the state's renewable wind and solar energy sources. He later walked those comments back.

Granholm argued that Texas state regulators and politicians ought to rethink their idea of energy independence and connect to the rest of the country for the good of all Texans.

"I understand Texas's culture and ethos is to be independent and I respect that totally," said Granholm. "But we're here as a federal government to say, you know, we want to make sure that you have the ability to help your citizens in times of need."

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