Texans brave cold, millions still without power

Millions of Texans braved their third day without heat on Wednesday following a punishing winter storm that has killed at least 21 people across four states.

Some Houston residents fled their homes with busted heating systems and water pipes and huddled together at the Gallery Furniture store, which opened its doors as a warming center to people trying to escape the cold.

The National Weather Service said historically low temperatures in the region would continue for days and some Texas officials warned that the power outages were likely to persist.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top official in the state's most populous county, which includes Houston, said the storms were straining not only the local electric grid but triggering a cascade of effects, including lost water pressure, carbon monoxide poisoning and halted COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas or "ERCOT" - which operates the state's independent power grid - has come under increasing fire for the crisis, and Judge Hidalgo said she did not trust that it had a handle on the situation.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for reforms and demanded that state lawmakers investigate ERCOT, which is not subject to federal oversight because it is not part of the national grid.

On Tuesday, Abbott also pointed the finger at frozen wind turbines amid the massive grid failure.

JEN PSAKI: "FEMA has supplied generators to Texas."

On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the federal government was deploying emergency resources to the state, and pushed back against the blame being thrust on renewable energy sources.

PSAKI: "There has been some inaccurate accusations out there... that suggested that renewables caused failures in Texas' power grid. And, actually, numerous reports have actually shown the country that it was failures in coal and natural gas that contributed to the state's power shortages. And officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's power grid, have gone so far as to say that failures in wind and solar were the least significant factors in the blackouts."

Many have blamed the power failures on a lack of preparedness, but the deregulated energy market in Texas gives little financial incentives for operators to prepare for the rare bout of intensely cold weather, an issue critics have been pointing out for years.

Some are calling for additional efforts to winterize equipment, including wind turbines, which are routinely equipped with warming systems that stop ice build-up in states with colder climates.