The Looming Threat of More Winter Blackouts

The Looming Threat of More Winter Blackouts

A new report from the non-profit North American Reliability Corporation (NERC) shows that many regions of the United States will suffer blackouts if extreme winter storms roll in again this winter. In early 2020, freezing temperatures in Texas caused particularly high electricity demand, and natural gas pipes and coal fields literally froze, causing rolling outages to prevent Texans from staying warm. Some worry that this year could see similar conditions.

Why This Matters

Texas, which operates on its own grid, and refuses to connect its grid to other states or regions, generates more electricity than any other state, but a winter storm could cause an excess demand of up to 37%, according to the report. During the power crisis earlier this year, Texas' power plants failed and over 200 people died during these winter storms, most commonly from hypothermia or from smoke inhalation resulting from fires set inside the home to stay warm. Outside of Texas, power in the Central and Northern Plains could also cease to function in extreme conditions, and a bad drought season has weakened hydropower. Bottom line: the US is deeply unprepared for the climate crisis.

NOAA: 2021-22 winter outlook, October 21, 2021.

The Good News

Predictions suggest that this winter will be warmer than average across the Southeast and Northeast, while temperatures in the Southwest, Southern and Central Plains, the Ohio River Valley, and Mid-Atlantic will be slightly higher than average. The Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, however, will be colder than average.

Cold snaps can still occur in relatively warm winters, as Texas' record-breaking cold snap hit during a warm spell. But even if cold weather strikes, weatherizing power plants can avert power outages -- the February blackouts in Texas could have been reduced by 67% if the state had prepared for the storms.

NERC President Jim Robb told CNN, "Extreme weather events, such as the one in February 2021, are unfortunately becoming more commonplace and the electricity ecosystem needs to come together to plan for and prepare to operate under more extreme, longer duration, and wide area weather events."

​​WW0: Heather Zichal and Amanda Little Facebook Live conversation, February 2, 2021.