The triple-digit heat baking Texas is pushing demand for electricity to record levels, and to keep the power flowing during extreme weather, the Biden administration is providing tens of millions of dollars to the state — part of a $207 million total grant across nine states and three tribal nations — to improve the resiliency of the state’s beleaguered electric grid.
Operators of the Texas power grid say there is enough capacity to meet the expected demand for electricity during the brutal heat wave that's currently sweeping across the southern half of the United States. But the devastating power outages that struck during the 2021 winter storm, which caused a state-reported 246 deaths, continue to raise questions about the grid’s ability to withstand extreme weather.
“Texas is not the only part of the country seeing massive heat domes or other extreme weather events," said Maria Robinson, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Grid Deployment Office. “About a third of Americans across the country are facing dangerous and record breaking heat waves right now. And we really want to focus on reducing the number, duration and impact of electric outages experienced both businesses and by residents."
Texas is to receive $60.6 million from the federal government to bolster the state’s power grid under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The money, which among other uses, can be used for purposes like hiring on skilled workers to shore up grid resilience or respond to and repair storm damage after it happens, Robinson said.
"Overall, this is going to fall within the realm of improving resilience to critical infrastructure that all Texans rely on,” she said.
Energy department officials say the grant money could also be used for other measures, like trimming trees to reduce the danger of falling limbs taking down power lines or weatherizing equipment to protect it from extreme conditions.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management did not respond to questions about how it will decide to spend the money.
“The governor and his state agencies have a really important opportunity to capitalize on this federal funding and really use it to bring Texas into this new advanced energy future," said Matthew Boms, the executive director of the Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance. "We're seeing that happen gradually. I think the question is, how quickly can it happen?”
Some energy experts caution though that $60 million won’t be enough to completely overhaul Texas's system, but trade organizations hope every bit of investment into the grid will help.
“Our members are really happy with this news that Texas will be investing in its own grid reliability future. We hear a lot about reliability, especially when the (state) legislature is in session," Boms said. “What we need to do is really put our money where our mouths are, we need to start investing and taking this issue seriously, not only for preventing blackouts that happen during winter storms, but thinking more long term.”
Texas's grant is part of a total $207.6 million in grid resilience grants being disbursed to nine states and three tribal nations across the nation. California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Rhode Island are the eight other states receiving funds. The Metlakatla Indian Community, the Native Village of Eagle — both in Alaska — and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North & South Dakota are the tribal nations receiving grants.
"Renewable energy has helped many parts of the country withstand a crippling heat dome, and the President’s Investing in America agenda will increase the amount of clean power sources available on the nation’s grid," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.
The grants, the Department of Energy said, are intended to modernize grids, reduce the impacts of extreme weather and natural disasters and work on clean energy projects.
“As once-in-a-generation weather events test the resiliency of our grid, these life-saving investments will ensure families — especially ones in disadvantaged communities — are not left in the dark,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.
It's possible Texas may tap into more federal funds to shore up weaknesses in its grid. The federal government plans to distribute $2.3 billion in grid resilience grants nationwide over the next 5 years.