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Opinion: Why what happened in Texas won’t happen in Utah

A woman walks through falling snow in San Antonio, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. Snow and ice blanketed large swaths of the U.S. on Sunday, prompting canceled flights, making driving perilous and reaching into areas as far south as Texas’ Gulf Coast, where snow and sleet were expected overnight. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

After watching what happened in Texas, the enormous suffering of millions of people without power, without water, for more than a week now, the question for us is – could it happen in Utah? The person to ask is the Director of the Utah Division of Public Utilities Chris Parker.

Parker: “I’ll hesitate to say it couldn’t happen here. I don’t want to lay an absolute like that, but certainly, our system is far different than Texas’ system.”

It’s all about the grid. Our grid is used to inhospitable weather. Pacificorp, Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, has power facilities in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah all over the Northwest. These facilities are hardened against that. The region we’re a part of stretches from Alberta to Mexico. There is a lot of diversity in climate and demand for power in that region. 

Parker: “Texas is huge but much less diverse geographically and weather-wise than we are, and much less prepared in their facilities for extreme cold.”

That said – we have our share of issues with wind storms that keep people out of power for days.

Parker: “There isn’t a lot we can do to protect against that except undergrounding new systems and quick responses to be resilient in areas like Centerville where that happens a fair amount. We guard against these things by building robust enough to handle weather like this, but there’s always a risk, and frankly, if you could protect against it, it would be prohibitively expensive. And that was the issue in Texas.”

Texas has its own power system, but we have to remember – Texas is the size of several states. Part of its power vulnerability is based on its lack of diversity in weather conditions and lack of preparation for that relative lack of diversity. Certainly, there are colder temperatures in parts of Texas, but the decision-makers didn’t think it was enough to prepare for. 

That’s the decision they’ll be rethinking. 

Parker: “If (Texas) regulators had imposed more robust requirements on generation transmission and distribution facilities, it would have raised rates, and there would have been complaints about that. But there is a threshold obligation for regulators to meet. It’s a compact with the people and with the utilities. What Texas wants, I suspect, will be different after this than it was before.”

Think of it this way. We hate it when the power company comes out to trim the trees. We hate it when our rates go up, but we hate it when the trees go down and the power goes out more. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.