Lessons Learned

As someone who has survived the great winter storm combined with horrible government in Texas I have a few thoughts… some lessons learned.

First – our experience:

Troy and I went to bed Sunday night secure in the knowledge that whatever came our way here in Houston our government would be on top of it. At 2:20 AM Monday morning those securities were gone. That’s when the power went out. We were without power until about 11 AM Tuesday when we began what was 2 days of on-again/off-again power blackouts.

Me. Not thrilled.

On Monday we decided that since we had lived in northern cities including Manhattan and DC we could tough out the power outage. We put on some extra clothes, emptied the fridges and put all the food outside (it was 9 degrees out there, after all), pulled the comforters off the beds, set the faucets to light streams, and setup fort on the living room couch with the dogs. And that was our life for most of the day on Monday.

Monday night was different. After 24 hours of no power and no heat with temps outside around 10 degrees the temp inside was hovering around 50 degrees. Monday night was Hell. We used the dogs for heat, I’m pretty sure they did the same with us. I’ve honestly never felt so close to death as I did around 3 AM Tuesday morning.

Luckily we kept water and kept natural gas. We found that boiling a pot of water helped put some warm moisture into the air. Taking a hot shower was nice – until you got out of the shower. Imagine jumping out of the hot tub and into the pool. In winter.

Tuesday morning we got power and despite what authorities were telling us we cranked up the heat to 75 and charged every UPS in the house. We still didn’t have internet and cell service through all of the last 3 days was terrible. Verizon likely had their own issues.

Our indoor temp sensor… plugged into a computer UPS for power.

We had power for about 2 hours and then it was off for about 4 hours. This cycle lasted until last night – Wednesday into Thursday. I think we finally have power back as it’s been on since around Midnight and it’s now 7 AM Thursday as I type this. Fingers crossed.

We were lucky. As terrible as it was for us we know others had it worse. We have a new house with better than average insulation. Many around Houston aren’t that lucky. We had tons of food available because Troy loves him some grocery shopping – many around Houston weren’t that lucky. We kept water service – many around Houston weren’t that lucky. We kept natural gas service – many around Houston weren’t that lucky.

And when I say “around Houston” I really mean the ENTIRE STATE OF TEXAS. None of this was some “oops” made by local government. This was a failure at the highest levels of government in Texas. Not only that but as news outlets are now reporting this has been an ongoing failure at the highest levels FOR DECADES.

The contents of our refrigerator… outside.

People died. Pets died. Others suffered like we did or worse. Houses were damaged. Jobs put in peril (special shout-out to both Troy’s employer and mine who were very understanding!). Oh, and we are all afraid of the bills that will come due in March.

Someone has to pay for this.

Second – the cause:

At least as things stand now it appears the cause of our statewide power issues comes down to failure to plan. Our power grid, which was in lower production levels for the winter months, couldn’t keep up. We didn’t have the flexibility to spin up additional generation in time. Pipes froze at power generation stations including natural gas power plants, nuclear power plants, and yes – some windmills.

The cause of offlining these power production facilities due to frozen pipes and instruments comes down to this: we didn’t prepare. For decades our power grid – a completely independent one that cannot connect to other states – knew they needed to winterize equipment but failed to do so. They decided instead to charge us customers premiums, not spend money on being resilient, and pass those savings on to… I’m assuming… executives somewhere?

The windmills weren’t the problem, as you may have seen elsewhere on TV assuming you had power. The lack of winterization on the windmills was the problem. The nuclear power plants weren’t the problem. The lack of winterization at those power plants was the problem.

Take away the power and other systems like water and natural gas begin to crumble down around it. We are, after all a power-dependent species now.

All of this could have been avoided.

Third – the lessons learned:

We’re now painfully aware of the following lessons.

  • We cannot be an island. Texas needs to have interconnections with the rest of the US. If we’re to be a UNITED States we need to be UNITED. Too many lives are at risk for all the machismo “we don’t want to have the feds tell us what to do” crap.
  • We need regulation. Deregulating the Texas power grid has done nothing for anyone save the executives who run the power grid. The competition for power “providers” gives consumers nominal savings – if you know how to work the system. But at what cost? Someone somewhere needs to be telling these power generators in Texas YES you have to winterize that equipment. YES you need to diversify your power sources. YES you need to have a backup plan that includes working with neighboring states. YES you have to provide power – a core necessity for human existence – at a reasonable rate to users.
  • We need plans. I have to tell you I was disappointed in the response from the President of the United states straight down to the HOA of my neighborhood. Everyone in between completely failed us. I know there were many working hard to help as they could but as a whole the system failed us. I don’t know if Texas is just used to dealing with Hurricanes and didn’t bother for other things like a winter storm but we saw NOTHING in the way of help. We were on our own.
  • We need options. Fossil fuels won’t last forever. We saw that natural gas lines were frozen over. Oil was stuck in the ground. These system can’t be the front runners. In fact the windmills that hadn’t froze over were actually a huge contributor to keeping the power rolling to people. We need to expand our renewable energy source and we need to have standards that keep those sources protected in harsh weather and at high peek times.
  • We need to vote and vote better. To put a fine point on it: our state has been run by Republicans for the longest time and it’s clear they have not done right by the people of Texas. The only way to implement any meaningful change is to vote and vote better. As Julian Castro said last night โ€œdonโ€™t put people who donโ€™t believe in government in charge of government”. So true.

We can’t do this again in 10 years. We have to learn these lessons now. We have to act now. And we have to stop bending the science to our political narratives. Trust the science, make the changes.

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