HOUSTON - While the weather heats up in Texas, the effects of February's crippling Big Freeze are still being felt. Now, a new survey from the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs shows how hard Houston and Harris County were hit, compared to the rest of the state.
The findings show the arctic blast that left millions of Texans in the cold and dark was worst in the state's most populous county.
"This was an unprecedented event for Texas, that was entirely preventable," laments Mark Jones, who is a senior research fellow at the Hobby School.
As so many lost power across the state, and watched their pipes freeze and explode, the survey of Harris County residents shows the local effect was much harsher, from a winter storm that should not have left so many vulnerable.
In Harris County, 91% of residents lost power, some for days, compared 64% in the rest of ERCOT's coverage area.
Meantime, 65% of residents lost water, compared to 44% of Texans outside the county.
"People of Harris County were significantly more likely to lose power; lose running water; have non-potable water; suffer economic damages; suffer water damages; have difficulty finding food and groceries," says Jones.
So, what to do about it? The overwhelming majority of respondents want the Texas legislature to force some measure of regulation on the industry, that would require weatherization and hardening of systems, along with reserve power capacity that can fill any gaps. It could be a tall order, as power generators have long indicated such efforts can be prohibitively expensive, for such rare circumstances.
Still, residents are clear that they want it done, paid for by the state or industry.
"By and large, Harris County residents do not want to see the reforms, that they believe should be made, made on the backs of consumers," says Jones of the survey findings.
He believes there will be some sort of legislation, but fears it may not be effective, after lobbyist efforts to minimize the financial exposure to the electricity and natural gas industry.
Meantime, for those asking 'why' Harris County got hit so hard: there's no clear answer. Mark Jones says ERCOT and the industry have not yet been very helpful providing answers.