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Environment

Failure Of Power: How Millions Of Texans Were Left In The Dark

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Failure of Power is a production of Texas Public Radio and The Texas Newsroom, a collaboration between public radio stations across the state and NPR.

When the Texas power grid failed during a historic winter storm, millions of people were left in the cold and dark. The operator of that grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said they were only moments away from an absolute nightmare scenario: a statewide blackout that could have lasted weeks — or months.

The storm was unprecedented — but it wasn’t unpredictable. How did this disaster happen, and what can be done to prevent a similar failure?

The storm hit Texas Sunday, Feb. 14, and the winter weather lasted well into the week. Access to water and power was inconsistent for many throughout the state.

By the end of the week, power was being restored, but over 14 million people had either lost water or were under boil water notices. We talk to people dealing with the water and power crises in real time.

We discuss the state of the market, the future of energy and Texas and the reality of climate change — including an exclusive interview with a former member of ERCOT's board.

Climate change is leading to deadly, devastating events around the world, and in Texas. Scientists agree, it’s going to get worse. The question now becomes: What to do about it? According to experts, decarbonization is a necessary goal to avert even more catastrophic climate change. The electric grid has a huge role to play in making that happen. But right now, at least in Texas, it’s unclear if there's enough political willpower to meet the moment.

Wind and solar had issues too, but, overall, renewables consistently performed near or even above ERCOT’s expectations. Thermal sources — like coal and natural gas — did not.

Natural gas and coal are usually easy to control but are contributing massively to climate change, which in turn is causing more catastrophic weather events that often lead to an even bigger increase in demand for power.

For the Texas electric grid — there are more questions than answers.

Lead Reporter/Producer: Dominic Anthony Walsh

Additional Production: Kathleen Creedon, Bonnie Petrie and Jayme Lozano

Additional Reporting: Bret Jaspers, Kyra Buckley, María Mendez

Executive Producer: Fernanda Camarena

Sound Design and Music: Jacob Rosati

Fact-checking: Sara Sneath

And a special thanks to Mark Memmott for his contributions.

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