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The Texas Government Is Letting Us All Burn

As the state faces another energy grid crisis, our governor is busy trying to crowdfund for a border wall.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaking at the WTTC Global Summit 2016
worldtravelandtourismcouncil/Flickr

Remember when Texas froze over back in February, and our independent power grid literally froze up and plunged millions of people into the cold darkness, and conservatives used the crisis as an opportunity to shit on renewable energy, and Ted Cruz fled the country, and hundreds of people died as a result? Me too, and I might even be able to remember more had my brain not protected itself by wiping my most traumatic thoughts from it.

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This week, however, Texans were informed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the same entity that oversaw that week and a half of hell, that something similar might happen this week — not that hell would freeze over once again, but that our energy grid might fail, despite it being ostensibly made to operate in these regular Hot-Ass Texas conditions.

According to ERCOT’s Monday announcement, energy plants were offline at a rate three to four times higher than the norm, for reasons they had yet to determine (though they called these “forced outages”), and the rest of the state’s power grid was having to meet a greater demand as a result. So, while they weren’t advising us that they’d have to take us to rolling power outages like they did in February, they told Texas residents to conserve energy through Friday. From the announcement:

Generator owners have reported approximately 11,000 MW of generation is on forced outage for repairs; of that, approximately 8,000 MW is thermal and the rest is intermittent resources. According to the summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, a typical range of thermal generation outages on hot summer days is around 3,600 MW. One MW typically powers around 200 homes on a summer day.

“We will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service,” said ERCOT Vice President of Grid Planning and Operations Woody Rickerson. “This is unusual for this early in the summer season.”

On Tuesday, ERCOT announced that the electricity conservation “combined with the changes in procedures and processes … following the winter storm prevented the possibility of rotating outages yesterday and ensured that no Texans lost power.” Love to live on the edge of a rotating power outage, baby!!!

To briefly recap, Texas’ grid failed in February was because it literally could not handle this unusual drop in temperature, thanks in part to the state’s failure to plan for such occurrences and to its decision to ignore advice from the federal government. Oh, and the Texas energy grid is largely independent as a way to buck federal oversight.

And yet, though the Texas Legislature supposedly addressed problems with ERCOT and the Texas energy grid as a result of the freeze, here we are four months later, setting our thermostats to 78 degrees, and unplugging our appliances because the grid couldn’t keep up. Throughout the freeze, the typical refrain I recall was something akin to, “the Texas grid is designed for heat, not cold.” So much for that promise. Gov. Greg Abbott signed two bills that were supposed to “improve” the grid, so why the hell does this continue to be a problem?

Perhaps because neither of these bills did much to improve the grid in the first place. From NPR, emphasis mine:

That weatherization part of Senate Bill 3 allows regulators to determine which parts of the natural gas supply chain are critical to electricity production and then requires that they be protected from the cold. […]

Experts said it ignores the interconnectedness of the gas infrastructure. […]

The law also includes penalties as low as $5,000 a day for companies that do not winterize. Critics said those fines could cost less than the price of complying with the law. […]

Other major proposals that might help safeguard the grid in both winter and in summer hardly received a hearing. That’s likely, critics said, because these plans could threaten the profits of natural gas suppliers or electric generators.

Suggestions to encourage power plants to have emergency backup fuel were rarely discussed. Bills to increase energy efficiency standards to relieve pressure on the grid were voted down. A proposal to back up the Texas grid by connecting it to other parts of the country was also not addressed. […]

In Texas’ deregulated energy market, companies can make more money during a blackout when supplies of gas or electricity are tight and demand is high. Many said until that basic fact is resolved, the state will remain vulnerable to blackouts.

Hahahahahaha great! This is all what I love to hear about the failure of a system that killed hundreds of people earlier this year, and has the potential to kill hundreds more!

Texas Tribune’s informative Q&A on what is going on this week, and how this ERCOT could-be disaster differs from February, said just about the same on the legislature’s paltry efforts this session. From the Tribune, emphasis mine:

What more could the Legislature have done to fix the power grid?

Nothing was done by lawmakers to pay consumers to reduce electricity usage, or provide other incentives or aid in reducing demand. They didn’t pass legislation that would help Texans better insulate their homes and reduce their electricity usage, which could both lower power bills and reduce demand on the grid.

Lawmakers also did not provide any direct assistance to people harmed by the power crisis in February.

They did not order an energy market overhaul; some proposals would have fundamentally changed the state’s deregulated market structure, which relies on supply and demand to set power prices.

I point all of these shortcomings out knowing that Texas’ legislators — the GOP, the ones who have the control — were always going to protect their own financial interests, and that the legislature was never going to pass anything that would have overhauled the grid in a way that would have prevented anything like what happened in February from happening again. Sure, the weatherization efforts are the right step, and no one would have expected these changes to go into effect so quickly. But the basic structure for how the grid works was never going to change, because doing that would require these legislators to prioritize making sure that Texans had reliable energy over their oil and gas lobbyist buddies.

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All the while, these ghouls had a fun session demonizing trans kids and successfully banning lessons on systemic racism from classrooms. And it should not surprise you that Gov. Abbott is less concerned about the potential for rolling electrical blackouts this week than with signing his GOP-agenda bills, and getting to chill with former President Trump — LMAO I really wish I was kidding with this one — at the border for this nonsense:

Does any of this grift sound familiar to you? Because I feel like I’m going absolutely mad thinking about it. How is any of this more of a priority than stopping the grid tripping offline and launching another statewide public health crisis? Sometimes it is hard to imagine just how much the people who run our state hate us, but all of this really puts it into perspective!