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What the Texas Winter Storm Power Outage Teaches About Financial Planning

Reading about all the Texans without power and water just makes me frustrated. Having worked as a Technical Writer in bringing SDGE into NERC CIP compliance makes this an interesting read. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) regularly audit power companies to the regulatory standards they've published. Often people complain about additional regulations and how much of a burden they are to become compliant. Well, yeah. Changing anything involves work. The question is whether the work is worth the effort. In the event of a perfect storm (pun intended) where lack of grid winterization met the extreme winter temperatures, we got to see the consequences. Nothing like a preventable crisis to raise the public's awareness. Much like the pandemic made scientists and doctors out of people who were otherwise disinterested in those areas, the loss of power and water will make us more aware of where our water and power actually comes from and how all that infrastructure works.

We get to have this Texan case study now to demonstrate the benefits of planning ahead. After all, even if the Texan power companies HAD decided to comply with winterizing their grid, it still would've taken some lead time to make it happen. AND it likely would have been pretty low on their priority list as something to future-proof the grid. As far as the four quadrants go, future-proofing the grid likely falls into the "Important, Not Urgent" quadrant. What if they even categorized it as something to go in the "Not Important, Not Urgent" quadrant? Then they would have seen it as a time waster that wasn't necessary for them to do at all. The below graphic is entitled "Time Management Matrix" but I would argue that time is a resource and it could be called a "Resource Management Matrix."

In defense of the Texas power companies, it's always a challenge to plan for the future and decide on which projects to devote resources. If they did their due diligence, it would've included performing regular risk assessments and taking steps to mitigate unacceptable risks. In 2011 they had a harbinger of winter risks to come, and might've prompted them to do some disaster preparation and planning. Unfortunately, competing priorities often lead companies to kicking cans down roads until time runs out. Why plan for something that may never happen in the first place? But consider the stakes if something DOES. That's the business impact analysis that was missed along the way: what if 2011 happens again and for longer or is worse? What if, what if, what if. Not a lot to go on. Sometimes you can just have a back up plan... if the worst happens, just purchase from other grids. They didn't set that up, either.

This is what is meant by a "rainy day fund" only in this case, it's a "winter storm fund." I find that companies often have plenty of time to do it again in a panic than to perform boring maintenance work to prevent it or mitigate its impact. In the Time Management Matrix above, time spent in quadrant 2 decreases time you'll need to spend in quadrant 1. Likewise for spending time doing the quadrant 2 work in financial planning. When you plan ahead and have savings in boring, methodical increments, when quadrant 1 items come up, you have the funds to mitigate the damage.

Never waste a good crisis. Hopefully the power companies walk away from this with lessons learned. At the very least, other power companies and the regulatory bodies are taking note. NERC CIP will include winterization as a consideration now.

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