Health

Many power units that failed during Texas freeze also failed in 2011 storm

As people froze to death or lost limbs to frostbite across Texas this February, dozens of the power plants entrusted to keep residents warm and safe faltered amid the unrelenting freeze — just like they did in 2011.

Nearly 75% of power generation units that sustained outages 10 years ago, when another snow-and-ice storm packed unusual force, also had shutdowns or reduced electrical production during February’s freeze, according to an American-Statesman analysis — and this time they contributed to a near-collapse of the electricity grid that serves the bulk of the state as many additional units foundered as well.

The Statesman found common failures in the 2011 and 2021 emergencies that include:

  • Insufficient winterization: Frozen equipment was pegged as the main culprit for the problems at generation facilities a decade ago and likely will be again this year. Already, a preliminary report by the operator of the state’s power grid indicates that more than 60% of plant outages leading up to the emergency in February were directly “weather related,” a figure that stands to grow as additional information becomes available.
  • Widespread vulnerabilities: Generation units that had outages or reduced output in both years are key components of more than 40 power plants, with owners that include Fortune 500 companies, such as Calpine, NRG and Vistra, as well as municipalities and electric cooperatives.
  • Millions left in the cold and dark: About 14 million Texans had electricity to their homes or businesses cut off at various times during February’s freeze, according to a recent study by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, with power out to 4.5 million at the height of the emergency. The freeze a decade ago was shorter and less severe, but it still knocked out power to an estimated total of 4.4 million Texans over its course and to 1.3 million at its peak.

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