A lawsuit filed in Texas in February claims that a Texas man died from hypothermia due to the negligence of Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Centerpoint Energy.
The complaint claims that the man was found dead in his home with the power out around 11 in the morning on February 16, “still bundled in layers of clothing in a vain attempt to remain warm.” The temperature during the previous night in Houston, according to the complaint, was about 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
A storm hit North America from February 13-17, causing at least 82 deaths, leading to at least $195 billion in property damage and leading to at least 9.9 million power outages. The complaint claims that ERCOT and Centerpoint were woefully unprepared for an extreme cold weather event despite having been warned for decades that the Texas power grid needed to be protected against extreme cold weather events.
The complaint notes that a similar storm caused blackouts in 1989, and that the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, after that storm, made recommendations that utilities take advantage of what was learned during the storm to make sure that any new facilities are reliable during extreme cold. The commission also recommended that utilities review equipment every year to make sure it can withstand extreme cold, and recommended that utilities repair broken freeze protection equipment.
Another similar storm caused blackouts in 2011, according to the complaint, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, after that storm, found that “generators were not required to institute cold weather preparedness, and efforts in that regard lapsed with the passage of time,” and found that it might have been helpful to increase reserve levels of power before the storm.
The complaint claims that ERCOT was grossly negligent by failing to be reasonably careful in estimating how much power would be needed during the February 2021 storm, and by failing to be reasonably careful in taking corrective action once it was obvious energy demand would exceed energy supply.
The complaint claims Centerpoint was grossly negligent by failing to be reasonably careful in making sure its equipment could withstand extreme cold events.
The complaint argues that the defendants’ negligence constituted gross negligence, or acting negligently while being aware of it, since they were warned after the 2011 storm that the grid needed to be protected against cold and increasing reserve levels before an anticipated storm could prevent blackouts, yet failed to do either of these things during the February 2021 storm.