The economic toll of the February cold weather in Texas recently is pegged at $295 billion. Worse, preliminary deaths are 111. That figure could change.

With the disaster in the rearview mirror the assessments of how people see the event is coming into focus. The University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs surveyed Texans and produced a report – The Winter Storm of 2021. Good survey to check out. I’ve chosen several parts of the report to bring out important energy issues.

Survey Background

The university “conducted an online survey of residents 18 and older who live in the 213 counties (91.5% of the state population) served by the Texas Electrical Grid, which is managed by the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The survey documents Texans’ experiences during the storm and explores preferences among potential changes in policies regarding electricity and energy more generally.”

Being Prepared

How did Texans get ready for the weather event? From the report: “More than half of Texans prepared for the winter storm by buying additional food (61%) and bottled water (58%) and by filling their vehicle with gas (55%). The next most common preparations, engaged in by more than two-fifths of Texans, were insulating the pipes in their home (44%), covering or moving outside plants (44%), and storing tap water (43%). Approximately one in four Texans purchased batteries (28%) or shut off the water in their home (24%), while one in ten bought gasoline or diesel fuel for a portable generator (11%), bought additional wood (11%), and/or bought additional propane (9%). And, a very prescient one in twenty bought a generator (6%).”

These are preparations that seem common for various storm events. The severity of the February storm – intensity and duration – may have been a surprise even though meteorologists started talking about the event on the news at least ten days before.

Public Problems

The survey asked about the big problems caused by the storm for the average person. “More than two-thirds of Texans had difficulty obtaining food or groceries (75%), lost electrical power (71%), and lost Internet service (71%). More than half of Texans lost access to drinkable water (64%), had difficulty obtaining bottled water (63%) or lost access to running water (57%).”

In this kind of event these are more than inconveniences.  They are safety and health issues.

Energy for the Future

After the event, what kinds of energy do Texans believe are best looking forward? Twelve kinds of energy were noted in the report. “More than half of Texans favor expanding five sources of energy, all of which fall under the renewable or alternative rubric: solar power plants (64%), geothermal power plants (60%), hydrogen power plants (57%), wind turbine farms (56%), and hydroelectric dams (51%). In contrast, a plurality of Texans favor reducing U.S. reliance on two sources of energy: coal mining and coal power plants (46%) and fracking for oil and natural gas (40%).”

So even in fossil fuel country there is a recognition that there needs to be a change. That reflects national attitudes. Says Pew Research: “Most Americans (77%) say it’s more important for the United States to develop alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, than to produce more coal, oil and other fossil fuels.”

Making the Investment

Here’s a key point. Texans do not want to pay for energy infrastructure improvements to forestall another emergency. “The survey did ask Texans what additional amount they would be willing to pay on their monthly electricity bill to safeguard the Texas electrical grid from severe weather such as that experienced during the week of February 14-20. A bare absolute majority of Texans (51%) indicated (see Figure 21) that they would not be willing to pay any additional fee to support these efforts.”

Texas devised a “lowest cost no matter what” system. Insisting to go without added investment could be a problem. In a previous blog I said there is no energy free lunch. The power system requires constant maintenance and improvement to serve society.  That is true across the nation.

It is not just money, either. Our power system requires planning and exceptional execution by talented technical leaders. If the nation does not learn lessons from Texas, we are all going to be left out in the cold.

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Feature image from Austin, Texas, after the snow and during the cold.