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above: burst pipes and a frigid indoor environment in Thomas Black’s Dallas apartment building (Twitter/@thomasblackgg)

Correspondence

Texas and the Big Freeze

What in the World Happened to Our Electricity?

It became up close and personal real quick. A favorite restaurant for brunch was closed on Valentine’s Day, a Sunday, because it was already cold and icy. So my wife and I walked to a place only blocks from the house. Then, the power at our home in Austin went off around 2:00 a.m. on Monday. The rest of the week was an endurance contest. Power was restored for only one 12-hour stretch, and we had no water after a frozen pipe broke on Tuesday evening. Fortunately, we had plenty of renewable energy—firewood—thanks to a series of warm winters. And we were fortunate to have a gas grill out back for cooking and hot coffee. It was a week to remember.

As one who has practiced energy law for more than 40 years and who teaches Energy Law and Policy at the University of Texas School of Law, I had more interest than many in what was happening with blackouts and the Texas electric grid. From my perspective, the blackouts were a surprise only in that they happened in the winter rather than during the summer’s peak air-conditioning season.

The blackouts had multiple causes. But we can start with a given: Electricity is central to our lives, whether for heat, light, recharging cell phones, powering the internet and the cloud, or operating energy supply networks, including pipelines and electric generation facilities. The loss of electricity during the Texas blackouts resulted in dozens of deaths. Given these realities, it is apparent that...

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