Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's tough talk for ERCOT avoids his own culpability, lack of action

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a recent news conference. - Courtesy Photo / Texas Governor's Office
Courtesy Photo / Texas Governor's Office
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a recent news conference.
Gov. Greg Abbott's slathering of blame for this week's electrical outages solely on the operator of Texas' power grid is both misdirected and coming a decade too late, say critics familiar with the state's utility systems.

During a Thursday afternoon news conference, the Republican governor unloaded on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for its inability to handle the crippling winter storm that left millions without power, saying Texans "will get answers" why the grid couldn't keep up with demand.

Further, Abbott called on the Legislature to pass a law mandating that power generators winterize their generating plants.

“What happened is absolutely unacceptable and can never be replicated again,” he said.

But critics point out that this week's rolling blackouts were themselves a repeat of a 2011 incident in which freezing temperatures played havoc with the state's grid.

State leaders called for new regulations on power companies in the wake of that debacle, but they ultimately passed no significant new rules. Any new investments and policy changes by power generators to weatherproof their plants since then have been voluntary

"There were no real repercussions in 2011," said Cyrus Reed, interim director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

"The same politicians that are calling for ERCOT's head right now have been saying for years that we've got the best power system in the land," he added.

What's more, the nonprofit ERCOT doesn't possess the enforcement power to require power generators to upgrade their facilities, experts also point out. The Legislature would need to implement such requirements, and it's up to the Texas Public Utility Commission — an oversight body appointed by Abb0tt himself — to enforce regulations that apply to power companies.

"ERCOT is the implementing body for the PUC's mandates and directives," said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office for consumer group Public Citizen.

He likened Abbott's repeated attacks on the grid operator to "yelling at the referee during a football game."

In a telling moment during Thursday's presser, Abbott declined to answer a reporter's question about whether the PUC deserves the same scrutiny he's demanding of ERCOT.

Indeed, critics charge that the deregulatory fervor espoused by Abbott and other Texas GOP leaders played a role in the failure of power generators to keep up with demand. The state's decision to maintain its own grid, separate from the rest of the nation, is itself part of its longtime effort to avoid federal oversight.

"If heads need to roll, it's not at ERCOT, it's at the PUC," Reed of Sierra Club said. "Frankly, ERCOT did what they were asked to do."

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Sanford Nowlin

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


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