Texas power outagesWinter Storm Could Cost Texas More Money Than Any Disaster in State History

By Mitchell Ferman

Published 26 February 2021

Lawmakers and analysts say it is too soon for an exact estimate, but the financial damage from the storm has left state lawmakers scrambling to account for the storm in the middle of the 2021 legislative session.

The winter storm that left dozens of Texans dead, millions without power and nearly 15 million with water issues could be the costliest disaster in state history, potentially exceeding the $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The deadly 2017 hurricane devastated the Gulf Coast region. Last week’s winter storm impacted every region of the state, a reason why experts and officials are discussing the possibility of damage and cost exceeding those from Hurricane Harvey.

“All 254 counties will have been impacted in some way by the freeze,” said Lee Loftis, director of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas. “That is just unheard of.”

As of Monday, state agencies reported spending $41 million on the storm, and local governments had spent $49 million, according to Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Department of Emergency Management. Kidd said he expects the state to be reimbursed for 75% of its expenses by the federal government. Only a fraction of local governments reported their spending, and he said the expenses already incurred by state and local governments only account for emergency costs. Kidd has not yet reported the cost of damage to state infrastructure.

Loftis said it is too early to tally the total cost of destruction, and state Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee that hosted Kidd on Monday, said the state’s share of the financial toll is not yet known. But while state lawmakers over the last decade repeatedly ignored recommendations to protect the state’s power grid from extreme weather, they have an opportunity to address the energy and water crises — and possibly prevent Texans from ever having to again endure days without basic necessities like clean water and working lights.

Lawmakers are in the middle of the 2021 legislative session, where they have been working through issues unrelated to the twin crises since they convened at the Capitol in January. Back then, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar told lawmakers how much money they’d have to spend on a state budget for the next two years.

After a bleak prediction last summer, when Hegar told lawmakers he projected that they would have a $4.6 billion deficit in 2021, Hegar had rosier news for lawmakers in January. Hegar’s projection in January was roughly a $1 billion deficit, still a deficit but significantly better than his previous estimate from the summer when the coronavirus was ravaging the economy.