AUSTIN, Texas — Last February’s catastrophic winter storm overwhelmed the state’s power grid, plunging millions into the darkness and bitter cold for days. According to the state, almost 250 people were killed, but some reports say it was many more. It spurred Texas lawmakers to investigate how such a disaster occurred and work to make sure it will never happen again. 

What You Need To Know

  • The winter storm that hit Texas in February 2021 left millions without power in freezing temperatures for days, caused property damage and officially claimed the lives of 246 people 

  • In the weeks following the storm, an overhaul of the state's electrical system became a top legislative priority. Hearings were held in the state House and Senate 

  • Two key pieces of legislation addressing the issue were sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, who later remarked that everything that needed to be done to address the shortcomings of the power grid had been accomplished

  • The power grid held up during a brief winter storm early in 2022 but questions remain about its resilience should a stronger storm makes its way to Texas 

“I am already working with the Legislature on reforms to add more power to the grid and to ensure that we never run out of power again,” said Gov. Greg Abbott last February.

An overhaul of the electrical system quickly became a top legislative priority. Days after the storm, state lawmakers from the House and Senate held hearings

“I want to hear who's at fault. I want details,” Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, demanded at the time. 

Blame shifting emerged as the investigation continued. Members grilled oil and gas regulators and energy providers.

“When I say there's a lack of communication from (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas), they didn't understand that they needed a continuous gas flow,” said Christi Craddick, Texas Railroad commissioner, during one House hearing.

“If we don't have a seamless gas and electric power system, what happened last week will happen again,” added Vistra Corp CEO Curtis Morgan.

Lawmakers also questioned the leaders of those agencies tasked with managing the grid, the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT. Bill Magness, who was ERCOT CEO at the time, said operators "kept the system in control." 

“Blackouts aren’t normal, you're not in control anymore, if you go there,” Magness told state senators last year. “What these outages did is let us hold on to the system long enough to get enough generation back to be able to serve people.”

It was the not the first time the state was warned about its electrical system. After a winter storm 10 years earlier, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that the “single largest problem during the cold weather event was the freezing of instrumentation and equipment.”

By the end of spring last year, lawmakers sent to the governor’s desk two major pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 3 required utilities and power generators to winterize. There will be inspections and penalties for not complying with the rules, but fines of more than $5,000 a day would apply to the most extreme violations. For natural gas facilities, the process is different.  Regulators with ties to the oil and gas industry will decide which facilities are deemed critical and those would be the ones required to make upgrades.

“Not every gas facility out there in the state is related to the supply chain of electric generation, and so if you start putting additional costs, unnecessary costs on those, probably going to force those wells offline,” Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, told Capital Tonight in May.

Senate Bill 2 reworked the governance of ERCOT.  It required members to live in Texas and the state’s big three — the governor, lieutenant governor and the House speaker — would have influence over who gets to serve. Today there are new appointees in place

“We've got more generators in ERCOT than we've ever had before,” said PUC Chairman Peter Lake last December.

One year later, as another arctic blast brought bad memories, the question is did state lawmakers do enough?

When Abbott signed the bills into law he said, “Bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

The power grid held up earlier this month, but officials acknowledge the freeze did not last as long and didn't plunge the state into the frigid temperatures 2021's storm did.