The February 2021 winter storms and rotating power outages enforced by ERCOT impacted more than 4 million Texans and showcased how some communities experience energy insecurity at a higher rate than others. Recent reports show low-income and minority communities were four times more likely to lose power during the rotating outages compared to more affluent, predominantly white areas.
During the Texas power crisis, social media posts circulated showing Oncor’s outage map. On the map, it appeared that a Dallas neighborhood called Highland Park did not lose power despite the rolling blackouts. Highland Park households are 90 percent white and the average median household income is approximately $207,000 each year.
Following the aftermath of the storms, further research seemed to confirm that there was inequity in which communities were hit hardest by power outages. The Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies (e-GUIDE) Initiative used satellite images tracking light patterns during the power outages. The findings showed communities with a higher percentage of minority families were more likely to have experienced power outages.
According to the e-GUIDE Initiative, predominantly white neighborhoods had an 11 percent chance of power outages, while areas with a higher percentage of minority households had a 47 percent chance of losing power.
Initiative lead Jay Taneja explained, “Though the analysis does not tell us why differences in blackouts arise, the end result, that already-vulnerable populations endure more widespread blackouts, is tragic and unacceptable.”
Energy poverty and discrimination is not limited to the Lone Star State, although the rotating power outages in February certainly emphasized this issue. With 31 percent of American families struggling to pay their electric bills, experts say now more than ever there is a need for state and federal assistance programs, residential winterization efforts, and energy-efficiency initiatives to remedy this issue for the impacted communities.
Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.