Texas will hold hearings this week into how a winter storm cut millions off from utilities and killed dozens, a disaster which the mayor of Houston called “foreseeable and preventable”.
Texas State Representative Craig Goldman said on Sunday that power companies, including the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and other stakeholders would take part in a hearing at the state legislature on Thursday.
ERCOT supplies power to more than 26 million people in Texas.
“We’ve been through what we hope is a one-time historic event in our state,” Goldman said in an interview with NBC’s Lone Star Politics programme.
“Thursday begins the questioning of the stakeholders involved to find out if anything went wrong, what went wrong, who’s to blame and more importantly, what solutions moving forward we can do as a state legislature … to make sure that this absolutely never happens again.”
Millions of Texans suffered power outages and water service interruptions after a severe winter storm hit the state this week. Dozens have died as a result of the subzero temperatures, including some who reportedly suffered from hypothermia.
While power has been restored to most people across the state – about 36,000 homes remained without power on Sunday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US – many Texans still do not have access to clean water.
State authorities have set up water and food distribution points to help residents.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration to unlock federal funding to help Texas state and local authorities respond to the crisis.
“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the White House said in a statement.
A man walks to his friend’s home in a neighbourhood without electricity in Pflugerville, Texas, on February 15 [Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/USA Today Network via Reuters]
But as temperatures get warmer across Texas, many are questioning how the disaster happened – and calls are growing for accountability and concrete action to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
In an interview with the CBS programme Meet the Press on Sunday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the disaster was “foreseeable and preventable”.
“Our system in Texas is designed primarily for the summer heat, and not necessarily for a winter event. The reality is climate change is real, it is real, and these major storms can happen at any time,” Turner said.
“The system needs to be weatherised. We need to maintain adequate reserve. We need to open up our Texas grid because right now we have a closed grid.”
Turner also said the state must bear responsibility for any exorbitant electricity costs residents may be billed for.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that one resident of a Dallas suburb was charged $16,752 for power usage during the storm.
“Those bills, those exorbitant costs, should be borne by the state of Texas and not the individual consumers who did not cause this catastrophe this week,” the mayor said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott held an emergency meeting on Saturday with the state’s lieutenant governor and members of the state legislature to discuss the spike in energy bills people are facing.
“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Abbott said in a statement, without providing details about what measures the state would take.
“We are moving quickly to alleviate this problem and will continue to work collaboratively throughout this week on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills,” he said.
Abbott told reporters on Sunday that the Texas Public Utilities Commission would order electricity companies to pause sending customers bills, the Reuters news agency reported.