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EDITORIAL: Did our leadership get the job done on power grid this time?

EDITORIAL: Did our leadership get the job done on power grid this time?

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Here are some statistics that take full measure of the winter weather crisis that gripped the region.

Even before February’s devastating winter freeze and statewide power outage concluded, conspiracy nuts were claiming that the nasty ol’ Biden administration had caused our state’s independently run power grid to collapse and that froze-up wind turbines constituted most of the outage. The truth: The Biden administration helped by promptly waiving environmental regulations just ahead of the freeze. And natural gas generators represented the greatest loss of production because of what one report says was “insufficient preparation for the intense winter storm and/or because fuel became unavailable.”

And so during a state legislative session obsessed with bills to further restrict voters’ rights and expand them for carrying a gun without training or knowledge of gun laws, we can only hope our legislators devoted sufficient time and effort to the real business of running an ambitious, commerce-oriented state: in short, ensuring its independently run power grid never craters to the degree we saw in February. Legislators’ failures in this regard in 2011 led to the deaths of nearly 200 Texans this year and caused more than $100 billion in damage to Texans’ homes and property.

In signing Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 this month, Gov. Greg Abbott vows that this time he and state legislators got it right. “During the winter storm, too many Texans were left without heat or power for days on end, and I immediately made reforming ERCOT and weatherizing the power system emergency items,” Abbott said. “We promised not to leave [the] session until we fixed these problems, and I am proud to say that we kept that promise. These laws will improve the reliability of the electric grid and help ensure these problems never happen again.”

That’s a heck of a boast, even in Texas. Senate Bill 3 demands upgrades for power generators and transmission lines to ensure reliability during extreme weather events; Senate Bill 2 reorganizes the much-vilified Electric Reliability Council of Texas board of directors. Yet a June 3 report by six former state and U.S. energy regulators — five of them former Texas public utility commissioners — warns the Texas governor, legislators and public that success or failure in the next extreme weather event pivots on diligent follow-ups, enforced deadlines and plugging worrisome regulatory gaps in SB3.

The report warns that while SB3 assumes weatherization is only needed for identified supply chain facilities, this doesn’t always reflect “the true interconnectedness of the entire natural gas delivery infrastructure” which, if left unaddressed, could fail, causing a shortage “that drives natural gas prices across Texas and the entire Midwest.” The report also recommends updating building energy codes statewide, given Texas is the fastest-growing state in the nation. Texas’ housing stock “has little or no insulation,” which hiked electricity demands to unprecedented levels during the February freeze.

“Never Again: How to Prevent Another Major Texas Electricity Failure,” written under the auspices of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, offers other excellent recommendations, including requiring critical facilities to have two days of backup power and ensuring outages that are supposed to rotate during a crisis actually do so instead of plunging some of us into frigid darkness for days, in some instances claiming cherished lives. This is the second time Republican state leadership has claimed their fixes will work. If they’re wrong again, their heads should roll — not ERCOT’s.

Winter storm in Waco, across Texas: February 2021

A far-reaching winter storm brought a week of icy weather and power outages across Texas.

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