Texas lawmakers are calling for investigations into the state’s power grid manager and are demanding resignations from some of its top leadership.
As of Wednesday morning approximately 2.7 million households in Texas have woken up without electricity with little answers as to when the lights and the heat can be turned back on.
“Millions of people without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable,” Texas and state senate head Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. “We must get to the bottom of this to be sure we are better prepared even if an unprecedented weather event happens again.”
Texas and much of the United States are facing record-low temperatures with the winter storm that rolled through earlier this week.
The severe weather initially left an estimated 4 million homes without power by Tuesday morning, according to the Texas Tribune, killing at least 10.
What Happened to the Texas Power Grid?
The cold front that swept across Texas brought with it two to nine inches of snow and ice, according to The Houston Chronicle.
Unlike other states, Texas power operates its own power grid managed by nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which provides about 90 percent of Texas’ power, Vox reports.
Most of that power comes from natural gas. When the winter storm rolled through, natural gas pipelines were clogged by ice or disabled by losing power, and demand spiked at the same time. Because the Texas grid isn’t linked to a national one, it was unable to import extra power, according to the Washington Post.
Critics, including certain Texas leaders, claim ERCOT wasn’t prepared despite knowing the storm was coming and hasn’t invested enough in weather-proofing infrastructure.
The surge in demand sent wholesale energy prices skyrocketing, triggering ERCOT’s computers to cut off customers to avoid paying the higher prices, according to The Washington Post.
Neither ERCOT nor any of Texas energy providers are facing litigation over the massive outage but Top Class Actions is tracking the story for developments.
Energy Price Spike
On Monday Texas regulators held an emergency meeting to allow ERCOT to change its pricing to reflect the increased demand, KVEO reports.
“Energy prices should reflect scarcity of the supply. If customer load is being shed, scarcity is at its maximum, and the market price for the energy needed to serve that load should also be at its highest,” the regulators said in the order.
KVUE reports there are caps in place to ensure customers aren’t gouged with an exuberant electric bill, but regulators in other parts of the United States have faced legal actions relating to prices.
Utility Lawsuits in the Past
The issue of unregulated, independent electric companies was the subject of a class action lawsuit filed last week in Maryland. The lead plaintiff argued Major Energy Electric Services gouges her with expensive bills and it only happened after the market was deregulated.
Currently, an Ohio utility faces a class action lawsuit from customers alleging a bribery scheme. A judge denied FirstEnergy’s motion to have that complaint dismissed last week. Consumers in that case allege FirstEnergy paid out $1 million dollars to an organization run by an Ohio lawmaker.
Other class action lawsuits have reached settlements.
Xcel Energy, a Colorado natural gas company, agreed to pay out $2.5 million in a complaint alleging the manipulation of gas prices last month.
Consumers claimed the company was publishing false data and practicing so-called “wash trades.”
Also in January, more than 40,000 Australians were represented in a class action targeting two government owned electric utility companies. The lawsuit was filed after Queensland customers saw 90 percent increases in their bills in the last five years.
Southern California Edison faces charges of negligence in the massive wildfire that consumed much of the state starting in 2017. The numerous lawsuits are estimated to cost the utility approximately $6.2 billion in losses.
Southern California Edison has already paid out an estimated $128 million in settlements stemming from the wildfires and mudslides already, according to VC Star.
Are you living in Texas without power? What do you think of ERCOT’s role in the power outages? Let us know in the comments below.
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