Austin: Energy Companies Cut Corners, Thousands Weather Historic Storm Without Power

Cover Photo: Austinites sheltering at a warming center (Credit: Austin Tribune SC)

By Nélida Tello

Temperatures in Austin hit below freezing during the week, as layers of snow and sleet covered the city. Hundreds of thousands of people across the city weathered the historic winter storm without power due to the failure of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) as well as various power generation and utility transmission companies. As capitalists cut corners to increase profits at the expense of the working class, they prove that disasters are not natural but created by the greed of the ruling class.

Despite being a major cause of the power crisis across Central Texas, ERCOT proceeded to raise prices of energy to meet demand, passing the financial burden onto the millions of desperate people simply trying not to die of hypothermia.

As thousands enter their fourth day without power and have no expected date for it to return, a citywide boil-water notice has been issued and the first natural gas outage has been reported in Austin. In addition, burst water pipes have forced many out of their homes to seek refuge with loved ones and at warming stations. Warming centers across the city have urged residents to stay home and only go to stations as a last resort, due to limited capacity.

Tribune spoke to Dorothy, 64, at Palmer Event Center, the city’s largest warming center. “My electricity went out on Monday. I braved the weather Monday, and I braved the weather Tuesday with no electricity. I haven’t had anything to eat. Woke up this morning and somebody’s water broke. So I have water everywhere. The only hotels left are the expensive ones. I can’t afford it. $179 dollars.”

People have trekked miles in below-freezing temperatures just to charge their phones and eat. When able to gain access to grocery stores, people were confronted with lines that wrap around buildings, empty shelves, and hour-long checkout lines.

Austin Tribune Support Committee members spoke to people waiting in lines outside of various grocery stores explaining that their misery and lack of basic needs were the fault of the ruling class, who did not prepare and pushed the burden of the storm onto the working class.

Those without power have resorted to sleeping through the cold to deal with the severe conditions, with many risking carbon monoxide poisoning, as car heaters, indoor fires, and stove tops are used to keep warm. Two deaths were reported in East Austin Wednesday morning, due to a house fire. City officials have attempted to obscure the reason of the fire, but it is clear that in the midst of the winter storm the deaths are a result of a fire started to stay warm at night.

Campbell, a man staying at a warming station, expressed to Tribune his contempt toward the city that has kept empty office buildings powered but failed to provide people food or power for over 36 hours. “Turn the power back on immediately! Instead of just doing it for the rich neighborhoods. Turn the power on for everybody. People are freezing to death,” he said.

Cars stuck on an access road off I-35

Icy road conditions have resulted in numerous accidents and abandoned cars on road shoulders, and as of Thursday a broken water main in downtown Austin has led to cracks in the asphalt. Thousands have been unable to work and are not receiving wages despite the cost of electricity and other utilities going up. Those who are called to work, face dangerous conditions on the roads as the city conducted minimal preparations for the weather.

Local organizations United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM) and Popular Women’s Movement (PWM) hosted warming stations in two different working-class parts of the city and spoke to the people, exposing the class contradictions behind the disaster.

UNDM carried out work in Riverside, where members addressed the city and capitalists’ failure to prepare for the storm. A large banner reading, “Criminal ERCOT makes millions while people freeze” hung on one side of the tent. Members offered hot drinks, delivered food, and helped maintain a fire pit residents at Vibe apartments were using to stay warm.

PWM set up a warming station near the Booker T. Washington Apartments for two consecutive days. Hot drinks, food, and warm clothing were given to residents and people in cars passing by. The organization raised demands for no increases to utility bills, immediate relief efforts to neighborhoods without water, food, or electricity, and demanded that Governor Abbott answer for this disaster.

When asked about the storm, PWM told Tribune, “This crisis is happening because Texas has a privatized power grid which is managed by the ERCOT, who has worked in collusion with the state to skirt federal regulations and prioritize short-term profits over long-term investments required for weatherizing infrastructure. They could have predicted that this was going to happen but they opted to make more money.”

The crisis during the winter storm that has hit Central Texas is not a natural event, but the handiwork of the capitalists and their criminal operations, like ERCOT and the various energy generation and transmission companies, who cut corners to increase profits. They are to blame for the misery and poverty of the people. The organization and resilience of the people to weather and fight back against the conditions imposed by capitalism are the true source of hope which affirm that the days of capitalists are numbered, only pushed further to the edge by their own failures.

Tribune encourages our readers to support groups such as United Neighborhood Defense Movement working to serve the people in this capitalist-caused disaster. Donate here:


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