This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed
This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed
HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Houstonians who felt that they were perhaps bearing more of a burden than the rest of Texas during the February 2021 freeze clearly were not imagining it, a new study finds. The impacts of the extreme weather event were far more severe in Harris County, according to a new report by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.
Notably, more than nine out of every 10 residents of Harris County lost electrical power at some point between the storm’s run from February 14-20. That’s about 91 percent – significantly higher than the 64 percent of Texas’ 212 counties that lost electricity within the Texas Electrical Grid, which is managed by the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
(Harris County residents reported to be without power for an average of 49 hours, per the study.)
Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of Harris County residents lost running water – some 65 percent, much higher than the 44 percent of other Texas residents. Worse, where and when running water was available, taps produced water that was undrinkable, the study adds.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas will argue that it has governmental immunity that protects it from the at least 35 lawsuits that have been filed against the operator after February’s disastrous winter storm which killed dozens of people and created millions of dollars of damages.
“ERCOT has and will continue to assert that it is entitled to sovereign immunity due to its organization and function as an arm of State government,” the organization wrote in a Wednesday court filing requesting to consolidate several of the lawsuits it’s battling.
Sovereign immunity grants protections for state agencies against lawsuits, with some exceptions. And this isn’t the first time ERCOT has made the argument — with some success — that it should be shielded from lawsuits due to its role acting upon the directives of state agencies and lawmakers.
In 2018, an appeals court in Dallas ruled that ERCOT, despite the fact that it is a private nonprofit, has sovereign immunity after Dallas-based utility Panda Power sued the operator over allegations of flawed energy projections.
That immunity was challenged at the Texas Supreme Court last month. However, the high court refused to rule on the issue, claiming it lacked jurisdiction because the original case that posed the question was dismissed — a hotly contested opinion with four of the nine justices dissenting.
A flurry of lawsuits were filed against ERCOT following the late-February winter storm that caused almost 70% of its customers to lose power in subfreezing temperatures. At least 111 people died, mostly due to hypothermia, according to state records. The Houston Chronicle reports the number of dead is nearly 200.
The grid operator is asking the Texas Supreme Court to merge the nearly three dozen lawsuits filed against it as a result of the February storm into multidistrict litigation, meaning the cases would be handled in a single court.
A spokesperson for ERCOT said in a statement it requested the move “to more efficiently resolve common questions of law and fact.”
Attorneys for ERCOT detailed the lawsuits filed against it over the last couple of months in the request. Two dozen include families accusing the operator of causing the deaths of family members, who they say died from sickness, cold or lack of power for oxygen machines, according to court filings. One of these cases include the death of an 11-year-old boy in Conroe.
In some lawsuits, ERCOT is named alongside Texas power companies, such as CenterPoint Energy, NRG Energy, Oncor and CPS Energy — which do not have sovereign immunity. Two of the cases are proposed class action lawsuits.
ERCOT’s insurance provider, Cincinnati Insurance Co., asked the U.S. district court in Austin on Tuesday to excuse it from covering storm damages or damages from lawsuits, according to the Houston Chronicle. It argues that the damages should not be defined as an accident because ERCOT should have been prepared for the storm.
Disclosure: CenterPoint Energy, CPS Energy, NRG Energy and Oncor have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
With Washington viewing China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims as “genocide,” the US weighs following the calls of activists who want Western countries to boycott the games.
Such a boycott would please activist groups, who accuse Beijing of attempting to ethnically cleanse the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang in northwest China. The country has denied the allegations of mass incarceration, forced labor, and torture coming from the West, insisting that its “re-education” of the Uighur population is necessary to combat extremism.
Also on rt.com Beijing blasts Western sanctions over alleged human rights abuses, says ‘door to China’ can no longer be opened with cannons
Calls for a boycott have primarily come from these activist groups, which include the World Uyghur Congress and various other organizations representing China’s ethnic minorities. However, several US lawmakers have thrown their support behind the boycott movement. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Florida) introduced a resolution in February calling for a boycott, but top-ranking Democrats have not indicated whether they’d back such a move.
Before former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Washington in January, he declared China’s treatment of the Uighurs a “genocide.” His replacement, Antony Blinken, also used the word “genocide” to describe Beijing’s conduct, and the Biden administration last month issued a joint statement with the UK and Canada condemning Beijing’s “human rights violations and abuses,” before sanctioning two Chinese government officials over these alleged abuses.
Also on rt.com The accusation of Uighur genocide is Pompeo’s last-gasp attempt to morally nuke China, but he’s unlikely to find many backers
Asked last week whether President Joe Biden would boycott the games – after backing Major League Baseball’s recent decision to move this season’s All Star game out of Georgia in protest at a new election security law in the state – Press Secretary Jen Psaki focused her answer on defending Biden’s backing of MLB, rather than the boycott question. Two months earlier, Psaki said that the Biden administration was “not currently talking about changing our posture or our plans as it relates to the Beijing Olympics.”
The US has only boycotted the Olympic games once before, when Moscow played host to the 1980 Summer Olympics after invading Afghanistan the year before. Short of ordering its athletes to stay at home as it did in 1980, the US could simply refuse to send government officials or dignitaries to the games, a position backed by Human Rights Watch and Utah Senator Mitt Romney.
Also on rt.com ‘Empty pomp and circumstance’: Eye-rolls after US Senator Romney calls for ‘economic and diplomatic boycott’ of Beijing Olympics
China has taken a dim view of the boycott movement, with government spokesman Guo Weimin declaring last month that the movement was “an attempt to disturb and sabotage” the games.
“These acts are in violation of the Olympic spirit. We believe that the moves will not win support from the international community and are doomed to failure,” Guo added.
Whatever the Biden administration decides to do, the games are scheduled to start on February 4, 2022.
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Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom increased shipments of natural gas to Europe by 30.7% in the first quarter of the current year, preliminary data shows.
Exports to Serbia saw a significant boost of 71.3%, while sales to Bulgaria and Greece surged 52.4% and 23.4% respectively once the Turkish Stream gas pipeline became operational.
Romania, which has repeatedly spoken of its energy self-sufficiency, increased purchases of Russian gas by an enormous 90%. The supplies are carried out through Ukraine and Moldova, a much more expensive method than the possible delivery via the Turkish Stream.
Also on rt.com Europe looks to stock up on natural gas this summer
Gazprom’s exports to Turkey more than doubled in the first quarter of 2021. A surge of 106.6% left the company the country’s number one energy supplier, despite diversification efforts undertaken by Ankara. So far, energy imports from Azerbaijan have failed to squeeze Russian gas from the Turkish market.
In 2020, Gazprom cut gas exports to 179.3 billion cubic meters, as the Covid-19 pandemic had a high negative impact on demand for energy among international consumers.
For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section
The Texas Senate on Monday unanimously approved a sweeping bill that would overhaul the state’s electricity industry and infrastructure, including mandating that power plants prepare for extreme weather and outlawing risky indexed retail electric plans.
Senate Bill 3, filed by Republican state Sen. Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, now heads to the Texas House where its prospects are uncertain. Members in the lower chamber will take up a series of related, standalone bills on Tuesday.
SB 3 would require all power generators, transmission lines, natural gas facilities and pipelines to make upgrades for extreme weather — a process known as weatherization. Most power generators and gas facilities were not equipped to handle temperatures that dipped into single digits last month.
Natural gas regulators and industry groups have claimed that the majority of the problems that caused a shortage of natural gas during the storm — which worsened the problems for power plants — was caused by power outages, and suggested that winterization of the natural gas supply system was unnecessary. The Senate bill reflects that concern, leaving it to the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory body that oversees the state’s oil and natural gas industry, to decide what upgrades natural gas fuel facilities would have to make.
The bill does not address funding to pay for the mandated upgrades. However, other pieces of legislation in the Texas House have been proposed with various funding mechanisms. Experts say the process of retrofitting the state’s power plants for winter could be difficult and costly, but not impossible, depending on the types of upgrades eventually mandated by regulators.
The bill would also ban indexed retail electric plans, whose rates fluctuate based on the cost of wholesale electricity. Customers in Texas who purchased indexed electric plans, like Griddy — which has since declared bankruptcy — saw astronomically high bills in the weeks following the storm due to a massive spike in wholesale electricity prices.
Senate Bill 3 would also create a statewide emergency alert system in the event of future blackouts and would create the Texas Energy Reliability Council, modeled after a currently voluntary board by the same name. Known as TERC, the board coordinates state energy regulators, electricity generators and the natural gas fuel industry to ensure reliable gas distribution for electricity. SB 3 would formalize the body and require it to meet twice a year.
Senators tacked on a handful of floor amendments, including a provision that would give the Texas Public Utility Commission six months to draft weatherization rules. The PUC regulates the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s main power grid. The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and natural gas industries, would be required to draft weatherization rules within six months upon completion of a map, detailing Texas’ natural gas supply chain to “designate priority service needs during extreme weather events.”
Both the PUC and Railroad Commission would also be required to conduct on-site inspections to ensure compliance.
Another key provision of the bill would shift some of the financial burden of ancillary services, which help ensure the continuous generation of power to the electricity grid in the ERCOT market, to renewable energy providers, an amendment proposed by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.
Some power plants or large users of power, such as oil refineries, offer to either increase the supply of electricity to the grid or decrease the demand for electricity for a certain price in a day-ahead market. ERCOT, the grid operator, purchases those guarantees to ensure extra power resources could quickly become available if there are any unexpected interruptions to the grid.
Currently, the costs of the services are distributed among customers. But some lawmakers say that the increasing amount of wind and solar generation could require ERCOT to buy more of these services, and argue that renewable power companies should bear the burden of the additional costs.
Hancock told The Texas Tribune that the provision was intended to be a “small tweak” to “level out the peaks and valleys” in market prices that he said are created by cheap and intermittent wind and solar power generators.
The Advanced Power Alliance, a wind and solar industry group in Texas, called proposals to assign the costs to wind and solar power generators an “unnecessary, discriminatory policy,” in a statement issued last week.
Disclosure: Advanced Power Alliance has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Shawn Mulcahy and Erin Douglas
Last month’s disastrous and deadly winter storm impacted most Texans served by the state’s main power grid, with almost 70% of those people losing power in subfreezing temperatures and almost half experiencing a water outage, according to a new report from the University of Houston.
And although Texans were told to prepare for short-term, rolling power outages ahead of the storm, those who lost electricity ended up going an average of 42 hours without it, the survey found.
As the updated death toll from the storm reached 111 deaths last week, the severity of its full force has continued to come into focus. The damage the storm wrecked could make it the costliest disaster in Texas history.
More than half of the Texans in the ERCOT service area had difficulty obtaining bottled water and lost internet service during the storm that blanketed much of the state in snow and ice. Three-fourths of people had difficulty obtaining food or groceries, according to the study.
Lucero Marquez, 23, lives in north Austin and although she lost running water for about 96 hours, she said she felt lucky she retained power and could venture to the local convenience store for bottled water.
“We have to go through these extra steps to flush our toilet and wash our dishes, but honestly, overall, we are thankful that we’ve got this scenario,” Marquez told The Texas Tribune during the week of the storm. “We’re not cold and shivering like many millions of others are.”
The storm also endangered Texans in the ERCOT service area indirectly as they struggled to stay warm. Despite the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, a quarter of those who lost power from the main grid used their gas ovens or stove cooktops to stay warm, and 8% turned on a grill or smoker indoors.
Nine percent of those who left their homes while trying to escape the cold stayed in their cars.
“This was as catastrophic as we all believed it to be,” said Kirk Watson, founding dean for UH’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, which conducted the online survey.
To accurately represent the impacted population, the school surveyed residents older than 18 living in the 213 counties managed by the ERCOT. It pulled in 1,500 responses during mid-March and matched a sampling frame of the genders, ages, ethnicities, races and education levels reflective of the counties.
Black Texans were “modestly more likely” to have lost power than white Texans, according to the study.
“I’m hoping the people start recognizing that these kinds of things are going to be happening more frequently,” said Watson, a former Democratic state senator. “We need to avoid the politics of things like climate change and instead focus on the reality of what’s happening and not allow people to be shivering in their homes in Texas without power and without water.”
Hypothermia caused the deaths of a majority of people who died from the storm, but Texas health officials also said motor vehicle wrecks, “carbon monoxide poisoning, medical equipment failure, exacerbation of chronic illness, lack of home oxygen, falls and fire” all contributed to deaths.
The UH report also gathered public opinion on state policies and public officials. ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, which oversees the grid operator, garnered low approvals of 6% and 10%, respectively.
In marathon legislative hearings, Texas lawmakers grilled public regulators and energy grid officials about how power outages happened and why Texans weren’t given more warnings about the danger.
But policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies, who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market.
A Texas Senate committee advanced a wide-ranging bill Thursday that would, among other things, mandate that power and natural gas companies upgrade their facilities to withstand severe weather. It would also create a statewide emergency alert system for future large-scale power outages.
A majority of Texans in UH’s survey supported requiring energy facilities to weatherize their equipment and face inspections from the PUC. The support for these policies were bipartisan. The alert system would help the 63% of Texans in the ERCOT area who relied on neighbors and friends for information, according to the UH study.
Executives at billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy have been lobbying Texas lawmakers to support an $ 8 billion plan to build 10 new natural gas power plants that would provide energy during peak consumption hours when demand is highest. The company wants lawmakers to create a revenue stream to Berkshire through an additional charge on Texans’ power bills.
Watson, who served in the state Senate from 2007 to 2020, was involved in legislative conversations about extreme winter weather after a harsh winter storm hit in 2011 and left Texans without power.
“In 2011, when we were asking questions about that winter storm, we were receiving promises and commitments that winterization would occur so that sort of thing wouldn’t happen again,” he said. “Clearly, those things still need to be done.”
Disclosure: University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Another show already confirmed will be based on the short story series about the hedge knight ‘Dunk’ and his squire ‘Egg’ (who is actually the future Aegon V Targaryen).
After that, there is Nymeria, based on the extraordinary life of the warrior Queen who founded the kingdom of Dorne. It takes place a thousand years before the main events in Game of Thrones when Arya would name her direwolf after her.
Flea Bottom will be set in the notorious lowlife slums of Kings Landing and is expected to embrace the lawless, rough edges of the capital’s underbelly.
The Sea Snake will focus on the maritime adventures of Lord Corlys Velaryon, the Lord of the Tides and head of House Velaryon. He is actually the husband of Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, one of the main protagonists of House of the Dragon.
Both these roles have already been filled by Eve Best and Steve Toussaint.
The last of the six is an animated series about which nothing has been confirmed.
The authorities said that Ms. Dearing, who suffered from dementia, had wandered into her backyard and collapsed as temperatures dipped to freezing levels. The paramedics who found her told county officials that it appeared that she had broken a leg and was not able to get back inside. Her body was found six feet from a rear door, officials said.
“We don’t know if she cried for help or if anyone heard her,” said Mike McAuliffe, a justice of the peace in Taylor County.
The storm’s devastation, Mr. Dearing said, could not be understated, adding, “I’m surprised the number isn’t bigger considering how bad it was.”
The storm disrupted the power infrastructure, which, officials said, was unprepared for such intense winter conditions. State officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, blamed the failures on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that controls electricity for some 26 million residents. High-level officials at the council, known as ERCOT, and the state’s utility regulator have resigned.
Officials have called for an overhaul of the state’s power system. Critics said widespread, lasting power outages underscored the flaws in Texas’ singular approach to electricity as it opted to have a power grid of its own and eschew regulation.
“We’re horrified that this can happen in modern-day society,” Celeste Peterson, campaign director in Houston for the Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for Black and Latino communities, said of the state’s new death toll.
“Unfortunately, Texas paid the price for some really poor planning and disregard, frankly, for human life,” she said.
Edgar Sandoval, Rick Rojas and Allyson Waller
Russell, who is the son of actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, added: “Hopefully they don’t hate me too much, [but] it would be an honour, I guess, to be disliked in the Marvel universe.” (sic)
It’s understandable little is known about US Agent so far since he was only in the episode for a few seconds.
Speaking about his upcoming storyline, Russell revealed: “I don’t think there’s really been many MCU characters who’ve had quite the dilemma he’s had in terms of trying to fit into this sort of moralistic superhero world.
“He’s been thrust into this role as Captain America and he’s going to do it his way, and he wants to do it right.”