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Will the Texas grid hold up in the freeze? Experts give their confidence scores

Will the Texas grid hold up in the freeze? Experts give their confidence scores
Will the Texas grid hold up in the freeze? Experts give their confidence scores 06:27

DALLAS - As an Artic blast heads toward North Texas, bringing with it below freezing temperatures, ERCOT said it's prepared to handle potential record breaking electricity demand.

But for many across Texas, the cold front is blowing in flashbacks to the February 2021 power grid failure.

During that historic storm, much of the state lost power, in some cases for days. The outages caused pipes to bust, homes to flood, and killed more than 200 people.

In the three years since the storm, more power plants have been winterized, natural gas producers have been put on lists to ensure their power stays on, and the overall electricity capacity in the state has increased.

But has it been enough?

The CBS News Texas I-Team asked experts, on a scale 1-10, what their confidence level is in the Texas power grid holding up in the next severe winter storm. (You can take our poll to share how confident you are at the end of the article.)

Thomas Overbye – Director of Texas A&M Smart Grid Center

Confidence level:  9

Thomas Overbye, Director of Texas A&M Smart Grid Center.

"We have done a lot since Uri," Overbye said. "We have done a lot of winterizations to the generators so they don't fail like they did. My confidence level is pretty high."

While Overbye can't rule out local power outages due to ice buildup on power lines, he is confident the changes the state has made will prevent another statewide grid failure.

"I'm not saying we can't have blackouts.  We certainly can.  But from a generation capacity point of view, I think we are in pretty good shape," he said.


Beth Garza – former independent ERCOT monitor

Confidence level: 7

Beth Garza, former independent ERCOT monitor.

Garza said another blackout lasting for days, like it did in 2021, is unlikely. But she added that rolling blackouts lasting for minutes, even hours, is not out of the forecast.

"We don't have enough supply to meet the demand in a situation like we had three years ago," said Garza, who is now a senior fellow with the R Street's Energy and Environmental Policy Team.

The former ERCOT monitor said she would feel a lot more confident if the Texas grid was better connected to the Eastern and Western Interconnections. Texas has long resisted connecting to avoid federal oversight but, in an emergency, if Texas was better connected, it could pull outside electricity onto the grid.

RELATED STORY: ERCOT may connect with eastern power grid to avoid winter emergency conditions

"I'm not looking for federal oversight of the electricity system but there are ways to increase ERCOT's ability to draw on remote resources from outside the region," she said.


Doug Lewin – author of Texas Energy and Power Newsletter

Confidence level: 3 and 8

Doug Lewin, author of Texas energy and power newsletter.

"I just think there are two different scores," Lewin explained. "I would say an 8 confidence that it wouldn't be as bad as 2021 but only about a 3 confidence that there wouldn't be any outages at all."

Lewin said Texas will continue be vulnerable to winter blackouts until changes are made in the way most Texas homes are heated.

When the temperature drops below freezing, 60% of Texas homes rely on electric resistance heat, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"It is basically the same technology as a hairdryer or a toaster oven seized for an entire home," Lewin explained.

Replacing those with energy efficient heaters —although would be more expensive upfront—Lewin said would dramatically lessen the load on the grid at the most crucial of times.

"You cannot build enough supply to overcome that problem and we are still building homes with resistance heat as the secondary heat," Lewin said. "If we don't address that, we will always be vulnerable to outages."

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