Analysis: Texans were right to be worried after ERCOT's Tuesday evening request to conserve power

click to enlarge ERCOT staff monitor the state's power grid. - Courtesy of ERCOT
Courtesy of ERCOT
ERCOT staff monitor the state's power grid.
Tuesday evening, two months after the near collapse of the power grid it oversees, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas advised Texans to conserve power because the grid was once again struggling to keep up.

Texas Twitter responded with angry condemnations, panicked messages and conspiracy theories. After talking through the reason behind ERCOT's message several times during the 6 p.m. newscast, KSAT anchor Steve Spriester even quizzed Mayor Ron Nirenberg on the matter during a live Q&A segment.

ERCOT officials told reporters Tuesday that they didn't expect power outages like those that occurred in February. The strain primarily came down to the large number of plants offline for maintenance, some to remedy lingering problems from February's catastrophic winter storm.

Fair enough. But can you really blame Texans for breaking into a panic when ERCOT blasted out its advisory on Tuesday?

After all, for all the finger pointing and bluster from the state's leadership about the disaster, they don't seem particularly concerned about addressing the core causes of the grid's near meltdown.

Sure, ERCOT's top exec and its out-of-state board members fled the organization, and all three members of the Texas Public Utility Commission have resigned since the disaster that killed at least 200 people.

We've also heard plenty of harrumphing from the Texas Legislature about making power companies winterize their plants and forcing regulators to reverse billions in wholesale electrical charges from the storm. It's clear the session will end with Gov. Greg Abbott signing some sort of law meant to minimize future grid catastrophes.

The problem is neither Abbott nor the majority of lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Texas Lege seem eager to tackle the larger structural issues that led us to February's disaster.

Among those issues are the state's unwillingness to join its grid with the other two that service the rest of the country — something that would be both costly and an affront to many state politicos' Texas-goes-it-alone talking points.

There's also been an apparent unwillingness for many in the Lege to view the blackouts as a soul-searching moment and admit that the Wild West-style deregulation they undertook in the late 1990s and early 2000s played a part in the crisis.

And calling for tighter regulations on the natural gas companies that hiked their rates as the grid buckled? Forget that. The Lege has repeatedly shown it's unwilling to stand up to the state's all-powerful fossil fuel lobby.

Weeks after the crisis, ERCOT remains a symptom of larger problems — and ones Texas' current leadership doesn't seem to have the stomach to fix. Until something changes, expect electricity users to cringe any time they hear another power-conservation advisory.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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