A new survey from University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs gives Texas lawmakers a better idea of what may have caused massive power outages during February’s winter storm, as they evaluate ways to fix the state’s power grid during the current legislative session.
Mark Jones is a political science professor at Rice University, and a part of the research team at the Hobby School. He told Texas Standard that more than two-thirds of Texans surveyed lost power during the storm, with an average outage of 42 hours.
“Contrary to the idea of rolling blackouts, the average single consecutive period that people were without power was 31 hours,” Jones said.
Rolling blackouts distribute power outages across a wide range of electric customers, making each outage relatively short as power is restored to one area and suspended in another.
Jones says power outages in February caused more than half of the Texans surveyed to lose access to water as well. Water outages averaged 52 hours.
The survey covered the 213 counties covered by the Texas electrical grid, as overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. The survey sought to find how Texans prepared for the winter storm, how they reacted to it and what attitudes they held about political leaders in the aftermath of the storm.
Jones says the impact of power outages seemed relatively equal in all parts of the state served by the ERCOT grid. Researchers did not find that distribution of the outages’ varied along racial or ethnic lines. But that doesn’t mean the consequences were the same for all Texans affected by the outages.
“Pretty much, this was an equal-opportunity storm that hit pretty much everyone,” Jones said. “That said, if you ask Texans about who had their power cut off and who did not, more than three-quarters believed there was not an equitable distribution.”
The survey also found broad support for requiring power generators to take precautions against future extreme weather events.
“We saw over three-quarters of Texans support requiring electrical generation companies and natural gas companies to weatherize, and electrical generation companies to maintain sufficient reserved capacity,” Jones said.
High numbers of Democrats and Republicans support these kinds of requirements, he says.
However, the majority of survey respondents did not support an idea to increase generation capacity by building new power plants and having consumers foot the bill, Jones says.