New England Clean Energy Supplier Explains What Went Wrong In Texas

WBZ-TV's Jacob Wycoff reports.

Video Transcript

In Texas, state officials say the recent power grid emergency is now under control after a historic winter storm hit the state, but there are still tens of thousands of people without power. And getting everyone back online could take days. But what exactly led to this major failure? And could it ever happen here? Meteorologist Jacob Wycoff has the story.

JACOB WYCOFF: Anna, this week I talked to the head of a local power company about what exactly happened in Texas and how disasters like this can be prevented in the future.

Unprecedented cold in Texas has led to an ongoing, unprecedented disaster. At its peak, millions were without power as ERCOT, Texas's grid operator, began managing the energy load as natural gas and coal-fired plants went offline. The cold is blamed for at least 30 deaths. Now, the concern has shifted to water. Uninsulated pipes burst in Dallas and Houston. Millions are now advised to boil water, if they have any at all.

Alicia Barton, CEO of First Light Power, the largest producer of clean energy here in New England, says this was a disaster on many fronts.

ALICIA BARTON: We do have a lot of lessons to learn from this situation. The first and foremost, I think, was really a, a failure to plan for future weather conditions. In particular, and as, as has been widely covered in media, much of the infrastructure they were relying on to generate electricity really was not winterized for the type of conditions that actually showed up over the past week.

JACOB WYCOFF: Barton says failure to plan for the future in a changing climate was central to what we are seeing now.

ALICIA BARTON: Our central reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure is really what has caused climate change. When we look to the future, we have to be thinking about building a grid that is both clean and reliable.

JACOB WYCOFF: Recent studies have shown that government and energy providers get more bang for their buck with proactive investments prior to storms, versus during the rebuilding or cleanup process.

ALICIA BARTON: It's always going to be more cost effective to plan, rather than clean up on the back side, and unfortunately, we're seeing, again, there's going to be enormous costs associated with repairing the damage here in Texas.

JACOB WYCOFF: First Light Power operates a wide portfolio of renewable energy, including a battery storage system at Brandeis University and multiple hydro plants in western Massachusetts, something Barton describes as a great compliment to variable resources like wind and solar.

ALICIA BARTON: We have to look forward, not backward, when it comes to embracing, you know, solutions to climate change.

- And Jacob, just a horrible situation in Texas. So hard to see those images down there. We know it's cold there again this morning, but some relief is on the way.

JACOB WYCOFF: Yeah, they're going to start to thaw out as they go into the next couple of days. They are still at or just above the freezing mark. 23 in Dallas, 33 degrees as you go into Houston. Compare that to us, 26 degrees. You know, they've had this historic shot of cold air that has just set up in the South, and it's finally migrating back to the North, back into Canada, where it hangs out most of the winter. Sometimes we get these polar vortex disruptions that bring that shot of cold air to us. We haven't really seen the cold air like they saw. They were below 0 for their afternoon highs in parts of the panhandle of Texas.