Personal Injury

Texans still dealing with the aftermath of winter storm Uri

April 1, 2021

Winter storm Uri, the major winter and ice storm that swept across the U.S. in mid-February, placed 170 million Americans under various winter weather alerts and caused blackouts for over 5.2 million homes and businesses – making it one of the largest blackout events in modern U.S. history. The storm’s destructive weather caused unprecedented power grid failure in Texas as millions went without power and water for days in subfreezing temperatures.  At least 57 Texans died as a result of the storm, with the majority of deaths associated with hypothermia (1).  

The rolling blackouts triggered by the storm also highlighted the isolated nature of Texas’s electric grid and the weaknesses associated with operating during extreme temperatures and weather. Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin who does work on electric grids commented, “Our homes aren’t built for this, our pipes aren’t built for this, our gas grid isn’t built for this, our electric grid isn’t built for this. None of it is built for this, as we can see (2)."

In the aftermath of the storm, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick announced that FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) would conduct an inquiry into what caused the blackouts in Texas and whether any new grid reliability standards ought to be imposed. Glick also stated that “Texas appeared to have ignored most of the grid weatherization recommendations made by FERC and NERC in 2011 following similar weather-induced blackouts (3)." Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called on state lawmakers to fund future weatherization of the grid.  

Several lawsuits have since been filed against utility companies as well as the state’s primary electric grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Inc. (ERCOT), for negligence claims. The lawsuits allege that ERCOT and the utilities companies failed to adequately assess electricity needs ahead of the storm and obtain enough electricity to meet the heightened demand (4). The widespread property damage, forced business closures, and individual injuries attributed to the storm have also brought a surge of insurance claims. The insurance Council of Texas has said that Uri will be the largest insurance claim event in the state’s history (5).

References  

1. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/03/15/texas-winter-storm-deaths/

2. https://www.law360.com/articles/1356289/blackouts-test-texas-grid-spotlight-renewable-energy

3. https://www.law360.com/articles/1356187/ferc-chair-says-texas-blackouts-may-spark-new-grid-regs

4. https://www.law360.com/articles/1356699/texas-grid-operator-utility-hit-with-10m-suit-over-outages

5. https://www.law360.com/articles/1356471/texas-winter-storm-to-bring-avalanche-of-insurance-claims

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