As high temperatures threaten to leave Texans without power to cool their homes, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates a grid carrying about 90 percent of the state’s power load, has asked residents to turn up their thermostats and reduce their use of major appliances from 2 to 8 p.m. to avoid outages.
There is a big concern among the Latino community in Texas, since, as happened before, they are likely to be affected disproportionately. Last year, blackouts and burst pipes caused by by a massive winter storm affected mostly people of color in low-income areas, leaving them without power to heat their houses amid freezing temperatures.
Antonio Arellano, vice president of communications at NextGen America, told Latino Rebels that “the loss of a substantial number of people that died as a result of the power outage of last year was not enough to mobilize Gov. Greg Abbott to implement the changes that would prevent this from happening again.”
Arellano says that climate change is pushing Texas’ power grid to its breaking point, and yet the governor has prioritized oil and gas instead of embracing what NextGen America calls the future: “renewable energy, which means more sustainable solutions.”
Founded in 2013 by billionaire hedge fund manager and 2020 presidential candidate Tom Steyer, NextGen America is a progressive advocacy group that mobilizes young voters on issues such as the climate, health care, reproductive rights, and immigration.
The National Weather Service has warned Texans of the heat wave, forecasting that temperatures might reach 112 degrees. The agency advises people to stay hydrated, protect the elderly, the young, and pets from the heat, and limit outdoor activity.
Staying indoors will be a task difficult to fulfill since reducing the use of appliances like AC is essential to avoid blackouts. ERCOT says that reducing power usage is crucial to prevent Emergency Level 1, which means having to tap electricity from other grids nearby to compensate for the lack of reserves.
Arellano says the state government in Texas has done very little to fully understand the urgency of the moment.
“There should be more heat wave shelters. There should be more air conditioning-provided centers that people can go to in the event of a potential power grid failure, that haven’t been fully installed yet,” he said.
If, as forecasted, Texas reaches a demand power peak of 79,671 megawatts, it will be around 500 megawatts close to reaching the total wattage available.
The Latino community suffers the consequences of extreme weather events caused by climate change in proportions greater than other communities. They are 21 percent more likely than non-Latinos to live in urban heat islands across the country, making them more vulnerable to heat waves that are becoming more frequent.
According to a survey conducted in April of last year by the Pew Research Center, about seven-in-10 (71 percent) Latino adults in the U.S say climate change is affecting their local community at least some, a much higher percentage than the 54 percent reported among non-Latino adults.
For Latinos in Texas, extreme temperatures add to the burden they already face from high energy costs.
“Latino households are struggling to pay their energy bill because there is an increase of cost for the rate of energy, given the fact that this comes from gas as opposed to renewable energy, which would be more affordable,” Arellano explained. “There’s also an increase in usage because people are having to keep their homes cooler because of the extreme heat outside, which is pulling more energy from the grid, which is jeopardizing everybody’s wellbeing.”
Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that extreme heat kills 600 people every year.
The rates of hospital admissions for heat-related illnesses as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders are usually increased by extreme heat. Outdoor workers like those in construction are affected by heat waves in greater proportions.
“The majority of Texas construction workers are Latinos. They’re outdoors working in hard labor, directly impacted by climate,” Arellano said. “Latinos are also the largest uninsured population in Texas, which means that they are unable to get those climate-related illnesses treated.”
“Climate change is a key voting motivator for young voters in Texas, which is why this is so important to us,” Arellano added.
According to the census, in the last 10 years, Latinos contributed to the largest percentage of population growth in Texas. Many of them speak Spanish as their first language.
Arellano says that the state has failed to communicate effectively to its Latino population, which is shown by its unwillingness to translate emergency services.
“Last year, during the weather crisis, so many families were unable to get the resources that were available because they were not in Spanish,” Arellano explained. “[Gov. Abbott] needs a culturally competent approach to make sure that all Latinos in this state are able to get the information and resources readily available to prevent any further loss of life.”
Juan de Dios Sánchez Jurado is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media. A writer, lawyer, and journalist from Colombia, he is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.