A Free-Market Energy Blog

Texas Blackout: Costs, Blame Mount

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 5, 2021

“[Texas] energy infrastructure, overseen by agencies whose top priorities seem to be keeping the energy markets happy, gets neglected. Such neglect, deadly as we have seen, is a crime — or it ought to be.” (Houston Chronicle editorial board, April 4, 2021)

The grand failure of Texas’s power grid under legislative/regulator/expert control is a case study in political economy.

The mainstream narrative combines an Act of God (weather) with private-side failure (non-weatherization). But electricity, while mostly under private ownership, is one of the most highly regulated industries in the U.S. It does not operate in an unhampered market.

Don’t blame God or Market Man–blame the system, the regulated system. Many posts at MasterResource have laid blame, brick-by-brick, on contrived versus real free markets and, more generally, on anti-fossil-fuel planning.

Today’s post documents the latest tally of the Blackout. The good news is that the event is not being swept under the rug. The bad news is that the Houston Chronicle seems to blame the mega-failure on Republican government, not government itself with across-the-aisle support for forced energy transformation (crony politics).

The Chronicle editorial, “Nearly 200 dead? Winter storm exposes myth of Texas miracle,” (March 4, 2021) begins:

Texans long ago became accustomed to floods and droughts, wildfires and heat waves. Mass shootings, major plane crashes, tornadoes and random chemical explosions. They’ve all been mixed into the bitter cup from which we’ve sipped.

But it’s been generations — decade upon decade — since this state has seen anything like the death toll that February’s winter storm has wrought. Not since nearly 600 people died in the 1947 Texas City explosion have so many Texans been sent so suddenly to their graves — more than in Hurricanes Harvey and Ike combined.

More than Tropical Storm Allison, which killed 55 Texans in 2001. More than in the 1953 Waco tornadoes, which exceeded 100 deaths. More than the 137 who died in the 1985 crash of Delta Airlines Flight 135 at the Dallas airport. More than the 15 who died in the chemical plant explosion that devastated the tiny town of West.


Those few days this past February, when the mercury plummeted and our energy sources quickly followed suit, and men, women and children died in their beds, will go down in history not just as one of Texas’ deadliest disasters, taking nearly 200 lives by latest counting, but also as a sort of reckoning for this state of neglect that passes for government.

With more detail:

Of the nearly 200 dead, at least 100 died of hypothermia. Yes, in the year 2021, they died of the cold, and often in their own homes shuddering to death while Texas’ much-hyped independent power grid came within “minutes or seconds” of absolute, weeks-long collapse. Sadly, the number is not complete. The Austin medical examiner’s office is investigating another 80 deaths the week of the storm, and other inquiries continue across the Lone Star State.

But as it stands the count includes 16 who died of carbon monoxide poisoning even as they turned to desperate and dangerous ways of keeping warm. Twenty-two Texans whose lives depended on medical devices lost them during the storm, as their powered-off machines went still.

The editorial goes on to blame “our elected leaders” as in conservative, Republican leaders:

What is conservative about saving us a few dollars on taxes and electricity bills if some of us end up paying with our lives? What is fiscally responsible about a system of energy generation that allows industry to profit from crisis while millions of Texas households and businesses are stuck with the bills: lost pay, lost revenue, exorbitant electric bills?

We’d like to say that the winter storm that led to February’s historic blackout represented a long-awaited winter for Texas leaders’ recklessness.

The Editorial Board of the Houston Chronicle, no conservatives or libertarians allowed, blames Republican government for not monitoring and regulating enough. Yes, Republicans from George W. Bush to Rick Perry and back to Ken Lay, went full throttle into renewables, but they were acting imprudently and as Democrats one might say.

What an interpretive mess! On the other side, many “free market” experts and planners have offered a competing narrative of freak weather and bad industry practices, natural gas in particular.

Previous posts at MasterResource and elsewhere have tried to offer a third interpretation of an unhampered market as the best ‘regulator’ of prices, profits, access, and reliability. More posts will be coming.

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