Frozen Edition: Enter Polar VorTex
Arctic weather loosed by a disrupted jet stream poured over the Great Plains and fanned across Texas this week, turning the state into a frozen huddled mess. New record lows were set in San Antonio for days in a row. Unprecedented and disastrous icy blackouts followed. Yet even as the lights flicker back on in much of the state, more than half of Texas residents are meeting the thaw with disrupted water service or boil water notices. Even Gulf water temperatures sunk beneath their previous records in what will add up to—decades of monstrous hurricanes notwithstanding—the largest insurance claim in the state’s history.
In a time of year when renewable sources aren’t heavily leaned on, the big losses responsible for the near-total-collapse of the state power grid came from failing gas, coal, and even nuclear plants—the so-called “thermal” sources. This was, from a climate perspective, a thoroughly expected disaster, both from a short- and a long-lens analysis. Heeded, these warnings could have kept millions out of the darkness even if shrinking the number of gas companies able to celebrate hitting “the jackpot” in this humanitarian disaster.
- You were warned: Meteorologist for Texas grid operator warned of the winter storm’s severity (Washington Post)
- We mean really warned: A Story of a Disaster Foretold recounts the blackouts of 1989 and 2011 (Texas Monthly)
- You were even warned fictionally: San Antonio Author Marisol Cortez Foresaw the Rolling Blackouts Now Plaguing the City (San Antonio Report)
- Frozen: Natural Disaster, Energy Choices, and Inhuman Responses in Texas (American Prospect)
Meanwhile, it will be several weeks before we know the full extent of the damage, including how many perished. So the game becomes: What will we know and when will we know it?
- Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan calls for review of what led millions to lose their power (San Antonio Express-News)
Here’s one early insight:
- Abbott appointees made ‘astonishing’ cuts to power reliability team before deadly Texas storm (Houston Chronicle)
Trifecta: Pandemic-Blackout-Water Grid Collapse
Even as the thaw arrived toward the end of the week, in came the “boil water” notices in San Antonio and across South Texas. Seems a cruel communications failure flowing around the question: Drip your tap; don’t drip your tap? (Texas Monthly).
- SAWS, city, and county distribute water as outages continue (San Antonio Report)
- Donating/Receiving: San Antonio Food Bank, Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, SaMMinistries, etc. (KSAT)
- Have a need or something to share? Check this huge list of volunteer-driven efforts: Texas Mutual Aid for Polar Vortex and Beyond 2021
- Or direct-dial into the San Antonio Mutual Aid Network (More recommended individuals/and grassroots orgs seeking donations at bottom of this post)
- Blood bank shortage “nightmare” (San Antonio Express-News)
Crisis in Conservation
Summoned to brief the San Antonio City Council, CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams said the utility’s conservation and ‘demand-response’ programs—the first place energy providers should be able to draw down to avoid disruption—totally failed.
“If we could have dialed back that system it would have really helped but it didn’t really happen because it was so cold people were just trying to maintain their operations,” she said. Of course, the CPS Energy offices themselves failed in this metric, too, with their own office tower lights burning into the dark of night as outages mounted across the city.
Yet, somehow, just south of San Antonio, a minor miracle: Floresville Electric and Power System leadership credited recent upgrades, social media, and their field crews for helping keeping power on throughout the week. Most significant was probably the nature of a closer relationship with customers who acted in concert to reduce their usage at the appropriate times to keep everyone illuminated and warmed throughout the week.
Lyin’ and Flyin’
If there was any repentance to be found on Ash Wednesday it would have to be forced out of “Flyin’ Ted” later, days after his cowardly flight out of Texas as millions of his constituents were freezing in the dark. It was an offense matched only by Governor Greg Abbot’s own politicizing of the event by blaming the rolling blackouts on frozen wind turbines.
- No, wind and solar power are not the main causes of Texas’ power outages despite Gov. Abbott’s claim on Fox News (KHOU)
- ‘Unfair and Untrue’ — False Claims Spread About Wind Energy’s Role In The Texas Grid Failure (TPR)
The Ice Next Time
Climate Change Will Drive Up Energy Use in Texas and Beyond (Texas Observer)
A new study found that global energy demand could rise by as much as 58 percent in the next 30 years due to climate change. But Texas’ electric grid doesn’t exactly account for this climate impact.
“As soon as we get on the other side of this thing, we really need to, as a state, get serious about planning ahead for climate change,” said Doug Lewin, an energy and climate consultant. “People have always thought about climate change as being something that’s going to affect the next generation. That clearly is no longer the case. It is happening right now.”
Texas Clean Energy Enters a Polar Vortex (Deceleration)
It’s time for San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and CPS Energy to convene with the community to chart a course off of fossil fuels that will protect residents from both the fast-and-freezing and slow-rolling manifestations of climate chaos.
Our Gulf Relatives
Weather conditions limit cold-stunned sea turtle recovery along Texas coast (Victoria Advocate)
Padre Island National Seashore needs your help spotting cold-stunned sea turtles (Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
Vouched-for individuals and small groups accepting donations for their frontline aid work in San Antonio and beyond.
- The Jovita Idár Little Pantry & Fridge: @Jovitaidarpantryfolx (Venmo)
- @BlackFuturesCollective-SA (Venmo)
- Para Mi Gente Mutual Aid: @pmgmutualaid (Venmo and Cash App)
- $TrinityMutualAid (Cash App)
- @JessicaO-Guerrero (Venmo); $JessicaOG210 (Cash App); @JessicaOG (PayPal): homemade meal and supplies delivery
- @DMHDZ210 (Venmo); $HernandezDenise (Cash App)
- Yanawana Herbolarios: $Yerbolarios (Cash App); @yanawanaherbolarios (venmo)