A new report published today by the Sierra Club identifies key lessons to be learned from 2021’s Winter Storm Uri, which left over seven hundred people dead and caused approximately $200 billion in damages. One year after the tragedy, the report finds that regulators and policymakers have done little to address the underlying vulnerabilities and inequities that led to nearly 10 million people losing power during sub-freezing temperatures.
While the gas industry and some public officials were quick to blame the power outages on wind and solar, later analysis showed that the gas system was the primary source of the grid’s failures. The price of gas sailed to astronomical highs during the storm, forcing utilities and homeowners to incur massive debts, and prompting investigations into price gouging. Millions of Americans from Texas to Minnesota will be paying higher gas bills for decades to come due to the gas system’s failures during this period.
In particular, this report identifies six key ways that public officials at local, state, and federal levels could address the failings that allowed Winter Storm Uri to cause such extensive damage:
Increase Energy Efficiency, to allow the same amount of electricity to go further;
Implement Demand Response, to intelligently shift when and where electricity is used;
Protect and Improve the Grid, to create a smarter energy system, ensure existing power generation can coexist with clean and distributed energy sources, and ensure that localized issues (such as outages due to extreme weather events) don't spread across the entire grid;
Increase Access to Clean Energy, to ensure that all communities can enjoy its benefits;
Foster More Public Input, to guarantee that individuals and communities (not just utilities and large corporations) have a voice in any and all regulatory decisions; and
Learn from Past Mistakes, so that the lessons learned from Winter Storm Uri—as well as from past extreme weather events like those in 2011 and 1989—are used to create a cleaner, more resilient grid.
The report also examines why Texas experienced more outages than other states hit by Winter Storm Uri, how the gas industry profited from Winter Storm Uri, and how individuals can take action and advocate for positive change.
Dave Cortez, Chapter Director of the Lone Star Sierra Club, said, “This report highlights something many everyday Texans already know: When it comes to our state’s energy policy, we are being left out of the decision-making process. Too many of our residents were left in the cold during Winter Storm Uri, both literally and figuratively, but we can and must do better. Public officials should focus on substantive community engagement and prioritize changes that will positively impact average Texans–things like energy efficiency, improving the grid, expanding access to clean energy, and fostering more public input–and not allow the fossil fuel industry to dictate our state’s policy priorities.”
Ric Galvin, a resident of San Antonio, Texas, said, “When the winter storm happened, I was staying with my family in San Antonio because of the pandemic. We were frozen, snowed in, had no power for several days when the storm happened. When we did have power, we had to boil our water because our pipes were no longer giving us clean water, and then we had to try to cook food as quick as we could within the five or eight minutes we had power. Now [utilities are] gonna charge us more for it? It's just not fair that we're gonna have to pay higher rates for our power after suffering through all those horrible things, and then little will be done to make sure this does not happen again.”
Dr Stephanie Thomas, a resident of Dallas, Texas, said, “I'm angry, and as a Texan I have paid enough. Other Texans paid with their lives. [Public officials] have to fix the grid by making homes energy efficient, because that would have saved lives during the winter storm. We need public input in these processes, and you need to hear from actual Texans. We need solutions that don’t just pad the bottom lines of corporations, but save the lives of our neighbors and fellow Texans.”