Texas Republicans are blaming everything on ERCOT and windmills

by | Feb 19, 2021 | Policy, Winter Storm

On Friday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas finally announced an end to the power outages that left millions of Texas in the cold during this week’s winter snowstorm.

The rolling blackouts, ERCOT said, were necessary to prevent Texas’ energy grid from completely collapsing and causing monthslong problems.

Along with windmills, Texas Republicans have shifted a bulk of the blame for this week’s disaster onto ERCOT, the state-run corporation that runs Texas’ isolated power grid.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into ERCOT and its actions during the crisis, and the next day, the governor told ABC 13 he believed ERCOT board members should resign. 

“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” Abbott said. “ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas … and they showed that they were not reliable.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, who fled Texas for Cancún amid the disaster, welcomed the news of the pending ERCOT investigation along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who promised to line up hearings in the Texas Senate next week “to get answers.”

Democrat state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas who has served in the Texas House Energy Resources Committee since 2015, said Abbott blaming ERCOT for the disaster was like blaming an air traffic controller for planes falling out of the sky. 

“ERCOT definitely deserves blame here, there’s no question about it,” Anchia told the Signal. “But literally, every ERCOT member including the one that lives in Canada and the others that live outside the state were approved by the Public Utility Commission, which is Greg Abbott’s handpicked team to regulate ERCOT.”

After a similar winter storm in 2011 froze out energy production and caused rolling blackouts in the state, Anchia said the legislature gave the Public Utility Commission of Texas broad powers to regulate ERCOT. 

“The bottom line is that the governor doesn’t want to take responsibility for his team that failed here,” he said. 

The Houston Chronicle reported Friday that the Abbott-appointed Public Utility Commission cut ties with a nonprofit last year that worked to monitor the reliability of Texas’ power grid.

“Greg Abbott appoints members of the Texas Public Utilities Commission,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement. “He is responsible for knowing whether or not an appointee meets the criteria for making critical decisions that impact everyday Texans’ lives and livelihoods. Their decision to strip away a regulatory layer of Texas electricity grid with deadly severe winter weather approaching is just another example of the failed approach Texas Republicans have when it comes to complex challenges facing our state.”

In past sessions, Anchia said bills that might have mitigated or prevented this week’s disaster were voted down or ignored in their committees in favor of red meat items that commanded more of Abbott’s attention. He cited a 2011 bill by then-legislator Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner requiring ERCOT to have adequate power reserves to prevent blackouts and another bill by then-legislator Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson requiring state agencies to plan for severe weather events. 

“You need to dust off my bill, and you need to refile it,” Turner said in a Friday press conference. “Because it’s not about just holding hearings. It is about recognizing that in the state of Texas, ERCOT is a closed system. And that’s the way leadership for a number of years have wanted it to be.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in another Friday press conference with Texas Democrats where Lee shared her experience in trying to coordinate outside help to stabilize Texas’ energy grid.

“When I called the Department of Energy they indicated their hands were tied because Texas purposely crafted their energy grid to be self-contained, gloating about how much energy they had and not sharing it with neighboring states and not being part of an integrated inter-transmission system that would’ve allowed other states to transfer energy during Texas’ time of need,” Lee said. 

“Why did this happen, it is because we had a failed governmental system that did not direct ERCOT to ensure we had weatherization of power plants, no frozen wind turbines and gas remain in the ground,” Lee said.

Photo: USDA NRCS Texas / Wikimedia Commons

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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