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League of Women Voters reflects on Winter Storm Uri at energy policy presentation

League of Women Voters reflects on Winter Storm Uri at energy policy presentation

League of Women Voters reflects on Winter Storm Uri at energy policy presentation
February 18
16:43 2022

In a corner room of the Texas Woman’s University Blagg-Huey Library, a Thursday night meeting started with a simple question – by a show of hands, how many of you were in the dark last year?

“If you didn’t have safe water to drink, raise your hand,” said Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, volunteer producer for the Denton nonprofit radio station KUZU station 92.9-FM and former Denton Record-Chronicle writer. “If you didn’t have internet at some point, raise your hand.”

The questions were just the beginning of an energy policy and ethics presentation organized by the Denton County chapter of the League of Women Voters, a national nonpartisan organization founded by suffragists in 1920. Denton County’s chapter was founded in 1961 and serves to encourage participation in democracy, according to its website.

Heinkel-Wolfe’s questions prompted some of the room’s 18 attendees to share their experiences of the February 2021 winter storm, also known as Winter Storm Uri, which was almost strictly referred to as “it” or “that week” during the meeting.

“We’re all traumatized,” Heinkel-Wolfe said. “I’ve been having a hard time this week with the recap stories and the photos.”

Linnie McAdams, the LWV co-president and a Denton resident, told the group about four houses on her street whose transformers broke, leaving their occupants completely without power and heat during the rolling blackouts. The residents were forced to either evacuate to a hotel or stay shivering in their homes, McAdams said.

“These four houses had nothing,” McAdams said. “It just got colder and colder. This was so awful I still stutter about it.”

McAdams, who has been an LWV member for more than 50 years, told the group her neighbors had contacted people to fix the transformers before the storm hit. The residents did not receive any real help until three days into the blackouts, said McAdams.

One section of Heinkel-Wolfe’s presentation addressed the official death count, which equaled 246 state-wide for Texas during the blackouts.

“There was never a death attributed to the cold in Denton County,” Heinkel-Wolfe said.

Rolling blackouts allowing precious hours of heat were the main contributor to zero deaths in the county, no deaths did not mean people were without hardship, Heinkel-Wolfe said.

“One of the people that I was interviewing as a possible character for [a canceled book on the storm] was someone whose loved one had home dialysis,” Heinkel-Wolfe said. “They were lucky – they figured out the pattern of the ons and the offs to make the dialysis work.”

Another statistic Heinkel-Wolfe discussed at the meeting was the real economic damage caused by the storm. While some estimates put the cost of the storm as high as $130 billion worth of damages already, the true number could be higher due to some individuals not filing insurance claims for damaged appliances or property, said Heinkel-Wolfe. For reference, 2005 storm Hurricane Katrina cost $125 billion in damages.

“The official insurance count for property damage doesn’t even come close,” Heinkel-Wolfe said. “People who are trying to estimate what the real damage was are throwing out $300 billion.”

University of North Texas students Kate Hickerson, an integrative studies junior, and Chris Roberts, a media arts senior, were two of the meeting’s attendees.

“We actually came to hear Dr. Briggle, but I’m so glad we came,” Hickerson said.

Adam Briggle, a UNT associate professor and director of graduate studies was listed as Heinkel-Wolfe’s co-presenter but did not attend the meeting because he was sick, McAdams said.

“I experienced [the storm] but didn’t see the full effect of it, so it was nice to hear the numbers that [Heinkel-Wolfe] gave,” Hickerson said.

Even with the university closing, there were still assignment deadlines to be met before and after the storm, which did not leave time to reflect on the reality of the situation, Roberts said.

“I didn’t realize how much of an impact [the storm] had,” Roberts said. “Because we were students, we didn’t really have time to reflect leading into it and coming out if it.”

Like other attendees, Roberts continued to learn more about the storm after it was over, including the fact that North Texas was dangerously close to a complete blackout in 2021, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“I don’t see how you can call yourself a civilized government or city and have something like this happen,” Roberts said.

Featured Image: Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe asks meeting attendees to raise their hands if they experienced power outages during last year’s winter storm. Feb. 17, 2022. (John Anderson)

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Alex Reece

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