“Bottom line,” Gov. Greg Abbott said this month, “is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”
Six days later, a grid emergency was declared when generator plants were down for maintenance. We also learned a small fire broke out in the Glen Rose nuclear plant. That’s why, for the second time this spring (not even summer!), we were told to conserve.
How humiliating for Abbott.
The Watchdog’s chief worry: It’s a blazing August heat wave. Air conditioners are running full speed. Our Lone Star power grid overloads. Homes and businesses lose power. Interior temperatures quickly rise. Suffering begins anew. Maybe Texans die.
Yeah, I own a small generator, but all I can come up with is this: Instead of baking like a rotisserie chicken inside, our family takes up residence in our air-conditioned car. But we don’t go anywhere. It’s the Texas Miracle.
The Watchdog has a couple of suggestions you can follow to push our so-called leaders to lead instead of carrying buckets of campaign donations from the oil and gas industry.
More on my new ideas in a moment.
Incompetence, a snow job and jargon
First, I want to quickly reminisce about what we’ve seen since the February freezeout.
After more than a decade of ignoring major flaws in our power system from A to Z, it all caught up with us, again.
(public) Utility Commissioners showed such blatant incompetence, they were dumped.
We feared state lawmakers would pull a snow job and fail in their duties to fix problems now rather than later. That’s what happened.
Meanwhile, ERCOT, the grid operator with a history of unreliability, talked to us in jargon so we couldn’t understand.
Lawmakers engaged in a massive cover-up with their refusal to appoint an independent commission to study the freezeout.
They ended the 2021 regular session by passing a massive bailout allowing the borrowing of billions of dollars in bonds that will add dollars to your monthly electric bill for decades to come.
Oh, and a last-minute move by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to give Texans a $350 credit on our bills failed.
Yes, lawmakers altered the system with a variety of new laws, including weatherization of some facilities (but not immediately), rules regulating rolling blackouts, increased fines for unprepared utilities, expanding the number of (p)UC members, a statewide alert system and mapping critical customers that can’t lose power.
But lawmakers hardly poked the bear. They didn’t go after the natural gas industry for its failures. How could they? The oil and gas industry, as always, is the most powerful lobbying force under the dome.
Republicans believe in limited government, as shown here. They do not, however, believe in limited campaign donations.
A Texas Tribune analysis of donations found that Abbott received at least $27 million from the oil and gas lobby during the past two decades. He sold his soul.
When oil and gas people want a meeting, they likely get it.
Me, without a derrick or well to my name? I can’t get Abbott to respond to the most basic questions.
The other day I wrote his press assistant the following:
“Does he still believe that everything that needed to be done has been done? Or is he willing to jump back in and do more for Texans in fixing these obvious problems? Is he considering placing electricity on a special session agenda?”
No answer. What can you say when everything that needed to be done has been done?
‘Help this snafu’
On Twitter, Sandra Ray asked The Watchdog, “What the heck else can people do to help about this snafu?”
I promised a new strategy. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when the wheel is already there.
I’ve compiled a list of the four top citizen activist groups devoted to pushing lawmakers and the governor to act on our behalf on electricity matters. I’ll introduce you to each of them. You decide if you want to follow them, join, donate or volunteer. I give their websites, but most have social media accounts, too.
You probably haven’t heard of Commission Shift. It’s only a few months old. Its purpose is to force the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, to shift its outlook and show more transparency in its decision-making.
The group intends to educate the public about the ultra-powerful TRRC. One project in the works examines conflicts of interest of elected commissioners. “They’re all really tied in to oil and gas,” spokesman Oliver Bernstein says. “And they’re not very welcoming in dealings with the public.”
Supporters include people interested in climate, energy and good government.
I asked the railroad commission for comment and received a 200-word statement that didn’t mention the new citizens group but praised improvements in making commission activities more accessible to the public.
(I would have said, “We welcome the eyes of Texans to watch what we do, and we look forward to working together to improve the lives of all Texans.”)
Texans for Fair Energy Billing
Texans for Fair Energy Billing is also only a few months old. It promises to “advocate for the voices of Texans impacted by the state’s negligence through a new social media story collection campaign.”
Supporters include some retail electric providers and businesses affected by high energy bills.
“There is so much more work to be done to protect Texas ratepayers, taxpayers and voters,” the group announces.
Spokesperson Talan Tyminsky says of Abbott: “He’s claiming mission accomplished before it’s actually accomplished.”
Unlike the newbies, Public Citizen has been kicking around Austin for almost 40 years. The group focuses on many issues and is well-respected in the Legislature. It closely tracks legislation.
One area it cares about is weatherizing residential homes, spokesperson Adrian Shelley said. The group also monitors policymaking throughout state government and lets supporters know when pertinent events such as hearings are coming up.
Progress Texas has been pushing hard against Republican leaders. “The Legislature failed to address any of the underlying problems,” spokesperson Glenn Smith said.
“The way the system is set up is they take producing plants offline and the supply goes down. When the supply goes down, the price goes up. So producers have an incentive to short the supply because they make more money by far.”
A statement released by the group last week commented, “If you’re sitting at home hot and angry because of our state’s failing energy grid, you know who to blame.”
Contact the governor
Contact Gov. Abbott and request that he place grid improvements on his agenda for a special session of the Legislature.
Mail: P.O. Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711-2428.
His website — gov.texas.gov/contact — offers links to the governor’s social media accounts.
Tell him The Watchdog says hi.