Lawyers representing storm victims are working to file the final lawsuits related to the disaster as its two-year anniversary arrived last month — and the two-year statute of limitations for filing suit begins to expire. Thousands are accusing power companies, distribution companies, electric grid operators and others of failing to prepare properly for it, creating a catastrophe that caused property damage, countless injuries, and hundreds of deaths. One expert estimated the cost of the freeze was as high as $300 billion.
When the storm struck just before Valentine’s Day, sending temperatures plunging across Texas, electric grid operators had to order power cuts to millions as demand for electricity rose while people tried to keep their homes warm. Power generators failed to keep up with the need. Some power plants went offline altogether as production of the natural gas that fuels power plants faltered due to the frigid temperatures or power outages.
The disaster prompted calls to reform the system. Legislators required power generators and natural gas producers to prepare their infrastructure better for the extreme cold, among other fixes. And lawmakers are now looking at whether to allow a major change to the way the state’s electricity market works, which involves a controversial attempt to send money to the types of power generators — such as those powered by natural gas, coal and nuclear — that can come on no matter the weather (unlike wind and solar energy).
The various lawsuits are being directed to one judge in Harris County who will handle all of them. The plaintiffs include a person whose house caught fire when power was restored, another who had both feet amputated after getting frostbite and a disabled person whose ceiling collapsed on him while he was in bed. “This catastrophe was not caused by an act of God, but instead was caused by intentional decisions by individual Defendants made both before and during Winter Storm Uri that were known to other Defendants and caused multiple operational failures which combined to cause the failure of the ERCOT grid,” one lawsuit states.
Meanwhile, the Texas Supreme Court is weighing whether the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state power grid, should be immune from lawsuits. The outcome of that case, which is expected this year, could allow ERCOT to remain a defendant in the lawsuits. For now, the district judge in Harris County has decided ERCOT is not liable. A spokesperson for ERCOT declined to comment.
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