Energy

Is Texas ready for another severe winter storm? Voters are split, a UH study finds

Among respondents, 53% believe and 47% do not believe laws passed during the 2021 legislative session improved grid reliability in the wake of last year’s deadly winter storm.

Power lines near Houston on Feb. 16, 2021. Some residents of Texas are facing enormous power bills after wholesale prices for electricity skyrocketed amid a massive grid failure.

Texas voters are split on whether the state legislature did enough to protect Texans from losing power during another winter freeze, according to a recent report from the University of Houston.

Among respondents, 53% believe and 47% do not believe the laws passed during the 2021 legislative session improved grid reliability.

Mark P. Jones, a senior research fellow at the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, said the divide among those who trust the grid and those who don’t largely falls along party lines.

“Half of Texans believe that we have nothing to worry about, that the state government took care of everything that needed to be done during 2021,” Jones said. “Half don’t believe that.”

While the Texans surveyed were divided on whether or not the grid is prepared for another freeze, most agreed that another cold snap was imminent.

Of those surveyed, 57% believed that Texas would have another freeze by 2025.

“Memories of the storm remain fresh in terms of politics,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “We found a majority of Texans saying that the state's legislative response to the storm's wrath will be important when determining which candidates to support in 2022.”

The survey polled 1,400 registered Texas voters from Jan. 14 to Jan. 24 about last year’s winter storm and how much the state’s response to the freeze factors into their votes during the primaries.

Whatever happens with the electric grid in Texas during the current winter weather, Jones said he expects it will have an impact on Abbott’s electability during the primaries. Abbott, who in recent days assured Texans of the grid’s reliability as the state faced a less severe freeze, has found himself the target of political attacks surrounding last year’s outages from likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke.

But Abbott also faces a crowded GOP primary, and a power outage could benefit the governor’s challengers, Jones added.

“They would be turning out to vote against Abbott as a rebuke of his leadership if we were to lose power again like in 2021,” he said.

More than half of respondents believed that the electricity generation companies weatherized their plants, with 74% of the respondents answering yes to that question. Under Texas Senate Bill 3, the 87th Legislature required power generator companies to weatherize plants.

But Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, said the wording in SB 3 wasn’t specific about its call for weatherization.

As of now, 20% of generator companies haven’t weatherized their plants and have applied for an exception to the bill’s requirements, Hirs said. That’s a result of leaving the weatherization of the grid in the hands of the same people who weren’t prepared for last year’s freeze, he said.

“These are the guys who got you into trouble in the first place,” he said.

Early voting starts Feb. 14, around the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required