Grid failure was a leadership failure

TCE Blog
By Robin Schneider, Executive Director

As winter weather descends on Texas this week, we are reminded of people who lost their very lives last year, of the millions of us who suffered in the cold and dark, and of so many who have had to deal with long-lasting home damage. The weather was extreme, but the truth is, this was very much a preventable crisis. In an epic failure of leadership, the solutions that were laid out after multiple previous smaller-scale grid failures were simply not taken by state officials.

Unfortunately, state officials still have not done all they should to make our grid reliable in the face of extreme weather events. Even if we don’t end up getting a repeat of Winter Storm Uri this year, I’m afraid for our state’s residents. Please do what you can to prepare for future disasters.

Another hard truth is that we will be dealing with last year’s storm for years. Adding insult to injury, ordinary Texans are now being made to pay for state officials’ failures and corporate greed. While we were left in the cold and dark, the natural gas industry had no limits on price gouging, so a handful of companies made more than $11 BILLION in one week during last year’s grid failure. Jerry Jones’ words about “hitting the jackpot” are still ringing in our ears.

State officials decided to allow much of that obscene amount to be passed directly on to ordinary consumers in the form of higher gas and electric utility bills for years to come. But these higher prices aren’t going to pay for a more reliable grid, they will simply line the pockets of greedy executives and shareholders who made windfall profits.

Your electric or gas bills might be transparent about these surcharges on your bill – or not. The price increase might not have taken effect yet, but will be on future bills. You have the right to know. If your bills are not clear, contact your electric or gas provider to get an explanation.

How are those increased bills affecting Texans? Are some people having to choose between paying their utility bills or paying for medicines? Are Texans making other hard choices?

Here are four things Texas officials should do to provide affordable, reliable power in the future:

1. Renewables paired with energy storage such as batteries are coming online and will be more reliable than fossil fuels and safer for public health – and they will have the added benefit of reducing the intensity of climate change in the long run. Texas should be doing everything it can to usher in that future and prepare our workforce for those careers.

2. Use the “Rainy Day Fund” for energy efficiency upgrades for homeowners, multi-family properties, business and government agencies will reduce demand and strain on the grid during extreme weather events, saving consumers money and reducing the need for polluting power plants.

3. Texas should tie into other regional grids so we are not dependent on ERCOT and can access energy from other states when needed or provide it to others when we have excess.

4. We must tame the natural gas industry so it is required to provide the gas our grid needs in the short term and prohibit price gouging. Officials should pass a windfall profits tax or re-institute the national price controls that were in effect until the mid-1980s.

Most of the problems we faced from Winter Storm Uri are fixable. It all depends on us exercising our power to get Texas officials to do our bidding instead of serving the short-term interests of the fossil fuel industry. A first step would be for candidates to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and refuse large contributions from that industry.