1935 – President Franklin Roosevelt signs the Federal Power Act, directing the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities can ignore the federal law. Freedom from federal regulation was and is holy writ in Texas. For the next 40 years, the Texas electricity industry is completely unregulated.
Meanwhile – each of the lower 48 states are members of one of two electricity grids: the Eastern Interconnection or the Western Interconnection.
When one state or region suffers an electricity crisis, the Interconnection allows it to get electricity from other states that are members of its Interconnection. This is true for every state except Texas, with a few exceptions: El Paso and small portions of the Panhandle and East Texas are members of one of the Interconnections. They experienced no problems during the recent deep freeze that buried the 90 percent of the state reliant on ERCOT.
2011 – A severe winter storm blankets Texas, causing the state’s electricity grid to break down. The legislature orders a study of what went wrong. The study recommends weatherizing the vulnerable components of the system. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation issue a report concluding that Texas power and natural gas companies are unprepared for cold weather and recommend installing extra insulation, heaters and wind breaks. Governor Rick Perry, the legislature and the oversight agencies do nothing.
2014 – Frigid temperatures cause Texas power plants to freeze up, bringing the state’s grid to the brink of collapse. The state utility commission urges energy companies to identify weak points and take action. They resist. The commission backs off. The feds revive their 2011 recommendations. Governor Rick Perry, the legislature and the oversight agencies again take no action.
2021 – History repeats itself the third time in a decade. A major storm bashes Texas, fuel sources buckle and the grid collapses, putting 9 million homes into a deep freeze, killing at least 80 people and leaving four million Texans without water.
Current Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Railroad Commission Chair George P. Bush, who oversees the oil and gas industry, have a consistent history of ignoring, dismissing and watering down every effort to tackle the state electric grid’s shortcomings. Taking his cue from his Republican cult leader, toasty warm in his Palm Beach citadel, Governor Abbott, a very vocal climate change denier, blamed the grid problems on renewable energy sources (wind and solar) that provide only 10 percent of the power that fuels ERCOT. It is no coincidence that Abbott, Bush and AWOL Senator Ted “La Cucaracha” Cruz (R-Cancun) are deeply embedded in the pockets of the Texas oil and gas industry.
Former Governor Perry, most recently Trump’s Secretary of Energy (and by every expert assessment the worst Energy Secretary in the department’s 45-year history) said: "Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business." In other words, freezing to death is a small price to pay for no federal regulation, which every other “red” state accepts as essential to keep its citizens warm and watered. Instead, Texans were left to burn their furniture and belongings for heat and melt snow to flush their toilets.
The nation should learn from Donald Trump’s politicization of a pandemic, resulting in hundreds of thousands of needless deaths, that Mother Nature does not care what your politics are or where you live. She will do what she does without any thought to how this will affect you.
Solutions--There are steps that need to be taken immediately to avoid a repeat when the next inevitable storm hits:
- Sens. Cruz and Cornyn and their House counterparts from Texas should introduce legislation to hook ERCOT into the national grid Interconnections.
- The Texas legislature should enact legislation and provide appropriations to weatherize the grid and its power suppliers.
- The Texas debacle should also be a wake-up call for the nation to invest the necessary resources to modernize the national grid system, much of which is 70-plus years old, and turn it into the “smart grid” that energy experts have been advocating for years.
February 26, 2021