Feb 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

What's next in the Texas power crisis

A satellite image.
Satellite image of the Houston area. Courtesy of the Colorado School of Mines.

A Feb. 16 satellite image above of Houston-area power outages (shown in red and explained here) gets to the immense scale of the Texas-wide crisis.

Why it matters: It's a human tragedy that's also quickly reaching Beltway energy discussions and responses and jostling oil markets.

What we're watching

Congress: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said via Twitter that "Democrats are working to pass our plan to provide robust investments to make our energy infrastructure more resilient, cleaner, and safeguard the country from devastating impacts of the climate crisis."

  • In a similar vein, Bloomberg notes that grid vulnerabilities the crisis exposed could give "at least a rhetorical boost" to President Biden's push for big new spending in this area.
  • That includes "better transmission systems and battery storage that would make the system more resilient amid extreme weather spurred by climate change," they report.

Agencies: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds its monthly open meeting later this morning, where the crisis is certain to come up.

  • The federal government's sway over Texas' independent grid is quite limited.
  • But this week FERC said it's working with the nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corporation to probe power operations in extreme winter weather in midwest and south-central states.

Restoration and new problems: Grid operators are making some progress restoring power.

  • But via The New York Times, "Early Thursday at least one million customers nationwide were without power, the overwhelming majority of them in Texas, according to Bluefire Studios, a company that tracks outages."
  • It's not just power either, with the crisis affecting water systems. And the region face continued difficult weather.

Energy justice: Experts say that communities of color were hit with blackouts in Texas first and are likely to face more hurdles getting help or being able to recover financially, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez reports.

Oil markets: Crude oil prices are at their highest levels in over a year as the storms disrupted lots of production in Texas, and some output is affected elsewhere, too.

  • WTI is trading around $61.46 this morning. The exact picture is unclear but some estimates place the oil production loss as high as the 3-4 million barrel per day range.
  • "Remember how the market reacted when Saudi Arabia offered voluntary cuts of 1 million bpd? Well double that number and see what happens. It’s exactly the same market reaction now with the U.S., although the cuts are not voluntary," Rystad Energy analyst Artem Abramov said in a note.
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