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The 2021 Texas Power Crisis: distribution, duration, and disparities

Abstract

Background

Precipitated by an unusual winter storm, the 2021 Texas Power Crisis lasted February 10 to 27 leaving millions of customers without power. Such large-scale outages can have severe health consequences, especially among vulnerable subpopulations such as those reliant on electricity to power medical equipment, but limited studies have evaluated sociodemographic disparities associated with outages.

Objective

To characterize the 2021 Texas Power Crisis in relation to distribution, duration, preparedness, and issues of environmental justice.

Methods

We used hourly Texas-wide county-level power outage data to estimate geographic clustering and association between outage exposure (distribution and duration) and six measures of racial, social, political, and/or medical vulnerability: Black and Hispanic populations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), Medicare electricity-dependent durable medical equipment (DME) usage, nursing homes, and hospitals. To examine individual-level experience and preparedness, we used a preexisting and non-representative internet survey.

Results

At the peak of the Texas Power Crisis, nearly 1/3 of customers statewide (N = 4,011,776 households/businesses) lost power. We identified multiple counties that faced a dual burden of racial/social/medical vulnerability and power outage exposure, after accounting for multiple comparisons. County-level spatial analyses indicated that counties where more Hispanic residents resided tended to endure more severe outages (OR = 1.16, 95% CI: 1.02, 1.40). We did not observe socioeconomic or medical disparities. With individual-level survey data among 1038 respondents, we found that Black respondents were more likely to report outages lasting 24+ hours and that younger individuals and those with lower educational attainment were less likely to be prepared for outages.

Significance

Power outages can be deadly, and medically vulnerable, socioeconomically vulnerable, and marginalized groups may be disproportionately impacted or less prepared. Climate and energy policy must equitably address power outages, future grid improvements, and disaster preparedness and management.

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Fig. 1: Total customers experiencing power outages.
Fig. 2: County-level distribution and duration of power outages.

Data availability

The final dataset used in the county-level analysis including customers without power, customers served, and the demographic information is available on GitHub (https://github.com/nina-flores/texas-po-dta). The code used for county-level analyses are also available. Individual-level data from analyses may be available following IRB approval.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all research participants.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences P30ES009089 grant and the T32ES007322-21 training grant.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

JAC, MVK, and NMF conceptualized the study. HM, VD, and NMF curated the power outage dataset. JAC implemented the survey. NMF analyzed the data and wrote the article. All authors critically revised the article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nina M. Flores.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical approval

The Columbia University Institutional Review Board approved this study.

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Flores, N.M., McBrien, H., Do, V. et al. The 2021 Texas Power Crisis: distribution, duration, and disparities. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-022-00462-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-022-00462-5

Keywords

  • Power outage
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Texas
  • Climate change
  • Extreme cold weather
  • Environmental justice

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