Editorial: Are Abbott, Patrick, and Phelan Changing Their Tune in the Aftermath of the Texas Energy Crisis?

Texas is finally emerging from the deep freeze of last week when the fragility of the Texas energy infrastructure was exposed to the world. As frigid temperatures impeded energy extraction, generation, and transmission; while simultaneously sending energy demand soaring as Texans sought to keep their homes heated; the failings of state regulators and the energy industry came into sharp focus.

The leading cause of the near-collapse of our entire state energy system was not the lack of wind-generated power—as claimed by some politicians—but rather the ongoing failure of the State Legislature and the Governor to require power generation companies to appropriately winterize their equipment. 

Texas should not have been caught by surprise, as last week’s crisis was decades in the making.  The need to winterize our power generation capacity was the subject of a Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) report back in November of 1990 (referring to a record freeze in December of 1989), and there were renewed calls for action after another Texas cold snap in February of 2011.

Yet ten years later we are facing the same problems, prompting yet another round of strong statements from state elected officials promising to make things better. Maybe this time will be different, at least it can be, if officials like Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Speaker Phelan actually keep their promises. After some state leaders initially leveled misleading directed attacks on renewable energy sources, by the end of the week they were singing a different tune, acknowledging the systemic failures throughout the state’s energy infrastructure. 

Governor Abbott has already taken a significant progressive step toward addressing the well-known shortcomings in the Texas power supply chain.

By asking the Legislature to “mandate the winterization” of Texas power systems (which are privately-held systems) and to “ensure the necessary funding for winterization”; the governor has fully embraced how government intervention into and regulation over critical areas such as the reliable supply of electricity is the right thing to do.

Even the staunch anti-government regulation advocate Lt. Governor Dan Patrick admitted on GMA on Friday it was a mistake for the Legislature to have only made recommendations to ERCOT and the PUC and not followed up with specific mandates back in 2011—an error Lt. Governor Patrick claims he is now going to correct in this session.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has called for a joint hearing of the State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees to help “Texans understand what went wrong and how we can prevent these conditions from happening again.”  Phelan called for an end to the finger-pointing and wants to see what the state can do to safeguard the electric grid.

Texans can only hope this new-found belief in the power of positive governance will manifest in an honest assessment of the conditions which led to this unprecedented failure, and passage of smarter energy policies to ensure it will never repeat and place Texas families at risk.

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