Q&A: Zwiener and energy consultant give insight on Texas winter blackouts

By Megan Wehring

Many Texans were left in the dark about what happened last week. District 45 Representative Erin Zwiener hosted a virtual town hall with climate and energy consultant Doug Lewin on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Viewers were able to ask any unanswered questions they still had following the winter storm crisis.

What does a resident do about construction in unincorporated areas when counties have so little say? 

Lewin: With all of the frozen pipes we have experienced throughout the state, if you have building codes of a high enough level, you should not have that. I am going to be interested to see if the International Code Council starts to change their climate zones. We are in climate zone 2 here in Central Texas, which is one step above subtropical. So we don’t insulate our pipes.

There have been bills in the last couple of sessions to give counties authority. My understanding is that, except for a few very large counties, counties do not even have authority in unincorporated areas to enforce fire codes much less energy codes. That’s a problem that definitely needs to be addressed.

Zwiener: We definitely have some conversations to have there. I’m always interested in how we can give a rapidly growing county, like Hays County, the tools they need to manage what is happening on the ground.

How do residents ensure they get real changes so that there is no oversight and requirements on the needed solutions? 

Zwiener: The way to make sure it is strong and makes real change is for you to stay mad and you to let us know you are still mad. Stay in touch with me, state senator, governor and lieutenant governor. Whoever represents you, stay in touch with them. You need to ask your friends in other house districts to contact their state representatives and take action on this.

I understand the comparison to 2011 and not a lot happened. What happened after 2011 was window dressing. This was worse and people are mad in more of the state. That’s why I see the political momentum to get something done. That does not mean that we can not fall short.

Who needs to be held accountable? 

Zwiener: The folks who are held responsible for this are kind of everyone. There are not a lot of players in this game that do not have some responsibility in things going wrong. I will say your locals have some responsibility in local missteps and I think they are interested in finding ways to be better.

Zwiener added that the Public Utility Commission, Railroad Commission, Electric Reliability Council of Texas, governor and Texas Legislature all have some responsibility for not fixing the situation beforehand. She encouraged people to understand that accountability is acknowledging there is a problem and then fixing it.

There was a lack of communication for all individuals, specifically those who were homebound during the storm (comment from a resident outside of District 45).

Zwiener said the crisis brought forth vulnerabilities all across the board. Texas cities, counties and the governor have the responsibility for emergency preparedness and emergency response. Most of that responsibility falls on the county and it can vary, depending on your county leadership.

Residents are encouraged to contact elected county officials and state representatives with any concerns they have.

How do individuals get help? 

Zwiener: It is going to take a while to get all of the repairs done because quite frankly, we just do not have enough plumbers to do it all overnight. It is going to take a while to get to everyone so I certainly hope individual operators try to prioritize the folks with the most need. I know the state is working to bring out-of-state folks in to help so that we get everyone back with at least running water.

Zwiener added that the flood damage from busted pipes is going to take even more time to repair because that can be a lengthy process in some cases.

More items surrounding the winter storm crisis, power and water outages were discussed in the video, nearly two hours long.

To watch the discussion visit Erin Zwiener, Texas State Representative, Facebook Page posted on Feb. 24.

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About Author

Megan Wehring graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. Wehring is nearing one year at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch, covering all things local. This includes city council meetings, town events, education and human interest stories. Previously, Wehring worked at KTSW FM-89.9 (Texas State University's official radio station) for two consecutive years. She was a news reporter, assistant news director and monthly segment producer during her time at KTSW. Wehring is passionate about the local reporter aspect. With a heart for storytelling, she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are most important to the community.

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