Texas got exactly the kind of energy response that it designed. ECC noted that about Texas regulations and energy structure: It opted for the ultimate no-frills energy system and got it.

How well structures are prepared for long, cold weather is another issue along the same lines. There are two parts to structure preparedness: Energy structures and residences.

Gas Plant in Texas. No covering. Has not been needed.

Energy Structures

“Gas and some coal plants were down in the weather anomaly in Texas,” says Kevin Martin, executive director of the Carolina Utility Customers Association in Raleigh. “Weather protection for some plants was not adequate because this widespread and deep weather event was not expected.”

Gas Plant that has walls – Minnesota

True. Gas plants in Texas are typically not wrapped in a protective cover – walls, ceiling. In parts of the country with routine cold weather these plants have buildings.  “The Texas system was designed for a cold spot here or there,” says Martin. “This was an infrastructure design and weather problem.”

Martin adds that coal, gas, and nuclear plants require cooling and some level of water. “It is my understanding that many had unprotected water mains outside the facilities directly exposed to these frigid temperatures which, when they froze, caused some of the plant outages. Also freezing of controls, actuators, and valves exacerbated the shutdown problems at the plants.”

Following a 2011 frigid snap the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission studied the event (right). Among its findings were that some energy infrastructure needed to be better prepared for frigid temperatures.

Home and Businesses

It is not just about the energy system. It is about being prepared on a personal basis. “It’s time to update our building energy codes. In Texas, out-of-date codes create a significantly higher demand for heating and electricity in both existing and new buildings,” says risk mitigation publication, PreventionWeb.

Why care about weather resilient buildings in the Texas event? Because one issue in Texas was that there was more demand than supply of energy. If demand can be lowered, that is positive when the system gets taxed. Homes and commercial buildings consume 40% of the energy used in the United States. Big chunk of demand.

Construction buildouts do not emphasize cold weather in Texas. “Most all the homes in Houston that are newly built, in 15 to 20 degrees weather – they will definitely hold on. When you get down to 10 degrees, 5 degrees, now you’re in uncharted areas,” says the former president of the Houston Homebuilders Association in a report from Houstonia magazine (right). “And losing your power does not help. Power helps immensely because it keeps your house warm. And some of that heat is going into your walls, which keeps [pipes] warmer. …We are not set to be at zero degree temperatures or 10 degrees for a long period of time.

The costs of upgrading housing and other buildings would be immense. Ever changing, too, along with the climate and weather. The question, says Kevin Martin: “How can we be better prepared, knowing that we can’t be prepared for everything.”

Houston’s homebuilder sums it up: “These things just don’t happen very often. But when they happen, then we get all these problems going on … And again, of course, the big question is, how low do you prepare for? Do you prepare for something that happened 31 years ago? Or … what do you do?”

Anticipate new catastrophes, don’t just react to the past is a good answer. One Texas policymaker said that the recent cold event was a “meteor strike” and does not require planning; leave it be. I’m not there. Consider these “meteor strikes”:

  • South Carolina had 500-year floods three years in a row.
  • From Feb. 7-20 ,2021, there were 9,027 daily cold records tied or set says preliminary data from NOAA.
  • Near Houston, Hurricane Harvey set an all-time rainfall total of 60.58 inches.
  • In Abilene, TX, 14.8 inches of snow beat the old record maximum snowfall of 9.3 inches set  April 5, 1996.
  • Memphis dropped down to 1° which shattered the old record of 8° set in 1958.
  • Spearfish, S.D., hit an all-time record low of minus 33 degrees on Feb. 14.
  • Dallas hit 79 degrees a few days after recording a minus 2 reading, a swing of 81 degrees.
  • Record lows were set during the 2015 Polar Vortex in major cities in the eastern U.S. like including New York, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Miami.
  • Or here’s a twist, Has climate change ended record lows in Phoenix? It appears that record lows stopped happening there in the mid-70s.

Cold weather accounts for a decent amount of these stories. The lesson from these, and the 2011 FERC study is to “layer up” for cold weather, whether it is you, your home, business, or energy plants.