The winter storm that hit Texas in February has left citizens with lasting effects. Now that most power has been restored and temperatures are returning to normal, families who experienced loss may be looking for answers from ERCOT.
Millions of Texans were left without heat or power for a record of 70.5 hours. According to the NY Times, there were at least fifty storm-related deaths reported—all of which resulted from hypothermia, house fires, drownings, car crashes, or carbon monoxide poisoning. So, what caused these power outages?
“ERCOT” is the Energy Reliability Commission of Texas which is regulated by the Texas Public Utilities Commission—not by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is not federally regulated because it does not trade significant amounts of power across state lines. As a result, Texas was unable to import extra power from surrounding states after its natural gas pipelines were clogged by ice or disabled by losing power.
Three-hundred and fifty-six generators were knocked off by the storm and ERCOT decided to have “controlled-outages” to avoid a state-wide blackout that would have lasted for weeks—a result that Texas was just 4 minutes and 37 seconds away from. However, the announcement to have these controlled outages underestimated just how long the power would be out.
There have been multiple lawsuits already filed against ERCOT. On Saturday, February 20, 2021, a Conroe family sued ERCOT and Entergy Texas for $100 million after their 11-year-old son passed away from suspected hypothermia overnight. Two other lawsuits claim that ERCOT was negligent in its failure to prepare for the state’s power needs in the event of such a storm.
Another lawsuit was filed Wednesday, February 24, 2021, against ERCOT and CenterPoint Energy demanding $10 million in damages for its negligence in failing to prepare for the winter storm. The plaintiffs are Mauricio and Daysi Marin who allege that Mauricio, who was on supplemental oxygen due to COVID-19 complications, was left to suffer without medical treatment that required electricity. The lawsuit also claims that CenterPoint Energy is individually liable because it “had the ultimate responsibility to supply power…throughout much of the state of Texas, but failed to do so because it callously and indifferently placed profits over people.”
Further, a class-action lawsuit has been filed alleging that “ERCOT has repeatedly disregarded its responsibilities” in prior years in its failure to learn from previous blackouts during winter weather in Texas. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of millions of Texas ERCOT customers who unexpectedly had their power cut off.
Unfortunately, ERCOT may be entitled to sovereign immunity as the Texas Supreme Court is set to decide this issue this year. In the meantime, increasing criticism and media pressures have causes four of ERCOT’s board members to resign as of Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
As the 4 million Texas homes who lost power for hours attempt to recoup from the storm and go back to “normal”COVID-19 life—we will just have to wait to see how ERCOT and other utility companies respond to these lawsuits.
Written by Germaine Jones, Juris Doctor Candidate
If you or a loved one suffered because of the 2021 Texas blackouts, please contact us today, we may be able to help.