The most glaring omission from Governor Greg Abbott’s special legislative session agenda is any kind of electrical grid reform. Some are questioning whether the reason is because the status quo benefits both Abbott and the power generators.
In February, Winter Storm Uri devasted Texas and left millions of people without power for days in freezing weather. The death toll estimated from the storm is 210. The failure of the electrical grid in extreme weather led to public outcry for reform, including forcing power generators to winterize their equipment and not charge customers for enormous price surges in the middle of an emergency. Nothing significant was passed during the regular session that ended in May.
Instead of trying to rectify the problem in the first special session, Abbott released an agenda much more focused on social issues such as discriminating against trans students in high school sports, prohibiting the teaching that white supremacy played a key part in the founding of the state and country, and restricting social media companies from suspending people’s accounts.
Why not grid reform? The answer might be money. Justin Miller at the Texas Observer noted that Energy Transfer Partners made $2.4 billion during the winter storm. As demand skyrocketed during the collapse of the grid, so did the price.
One of the reasons that grid reform always seemed unlikely even during the regular session is that no Republican seemed interested in upsetting the hands-off regulation practices of the state’s electrical sector. ERCOT doesn’t actually have the power to tell power generators what to do, and the group’s whole approach is often to facilitate the profit of those generators even over the safety of Texans. Combined with the Railroad Commission’s deep financial ties to the energy industry, grid reform is in complete opposition to the way the system is set up.
This comes back around to Abbott, who is also profiting nicely off keeping the power generators happy. After grid reform failed to pass or make it into the special session agenda, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren donated $1 million to Abbott. It was the biggest donation ever for a Texas politician. Abbott is likely to need that money as he faces re-election next year with challenges from both the right and the left.
This is, sadly, a pattern with the governor, who has been known to profit mightily off of looking the other way. When former President Donald Trump was being investigated for running a fraudulent university that bilked Texans out of their money, Abbott as Attorney General was on the case. Trump University was then being sued in the state for $5.4 million.
Then, suddenly, Abbott’s office decided not to pursue the case any further. Three years later, Abbott would receive a $35,000 political donation from Trump, the former president’s first-ever foray into Texas politics.