Since Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo took office in 2018, she has dealt with explosions, flooding, fires and now, a one-of-a-kind winter storm that she calls “the winter version of Hurricane Harvey.” She has been monitoring power and weather conditions from the area’s emergency management center.
Hidalgo, whose jurisdiction includes Houston, the most populous citiy in the state, told Texas Standard that this week’s cold, and the associated impact on utilities, amounts to both a natural disaster and a manmade one.
“The reason that the product – the energy – is not there for us to give electricity to our community, just as so many other Texans, is not a weather issue in large part,” Hidalgo said.
She says CenterPoint Energy, which provides power in Harris County, has the equipment needed to deliver electricity, but the state’s energy grid cannot supply it.
Hidalgo says the power issues are now “cascading” into problems with water pressure that affect residents, hospitals and even firefighters.
Harris County has reached out to the state for assistance. Hidalgo says the lack of mobility caused by icy roadways makes it difficult for help from outside the area to reach places where it’s needed.
Hidalgo did not speculate about the possibility that energy is being held back to cause its price to rise. She says investigations into the cause of this week’s failures of energy distribution should occur.
“Clearly something has gone wrong, because the energy capital of the world should have been able to recognize that this weather was coming, which we knew was going to be historic, and make sure that we had adequate supply,” she said.
The most important task right now is addressing the needs of people who are running out of food and water. Hidalgo says Harris County is working with grocery stores to make sure people can resupply later in the week.
“In the background, we continue to have the need to just put pressure on ERCOT and remind everybody that whatever it is that they need to do, they need to bring that power generation back on,” she said.
She says it’s “very likely” that power will not be fully restored until the cold weather has passed.