Texas Officials Outline Why Energy Crisis In Winter Was Preventable

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 13: Mayor of Houston state of Texas, Sylvester Turner speaks during the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkey on July 13, 2017. (Photo by Berk Ozkan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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February 21, 2021 5:31 p.m.

Current and former Texas officials on Sunday stressed the severity of the Lone Star state’s energy crisis as they outlined reasons why the disaster amid winter storms that left millions of Texans without electricity was preventable.

Texas holds the country’s only independent electrical service. Critics of the state’s energy grid say its independence from the rest of the country allowed the state’s infrastructure to bypass federal regulations requiring cold-weather capabilities.

Republican leaders in Texas such as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have faced backlash over mismanagement of the state’s power grid as well as their slow emergency response to one of the state’s most disastrous crises in modern history. While Abbott took to Fox News last week to falsely suggest that the state’s energy crisis could be blamed on the failure of windmills, Cruz decamped to Cancún and blamed his kids for the fiasco that ensued over his ill-timed trip.

Amid growing outcry over lack of preparedness or information about the energy crisis, Abbott announced an investigation into the state’s standalone energy service – whose leadership the Texas governor himself appointed.

Here’s how current and former Texas officials took to cable networks on Sunday morning and outlined why the state’s energy crisis was preventable:

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner

Asked on CBS whether it’s fair to stick Houston residents with the bill to fix the energy crisis, Turner replied that “the answer is no” before adding that the crisis was “foreseeable and preventable.”

“Back in 2011, when I was in the legislature, I filed a bill that would have required the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, which manages our Texas grid, to ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts. That is specifically what the bill said. I filed it,” Turner said. “The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing. At the same time, our system in Texas is designed primarily for the summer heat and not necessarily for a winter event.”

Turner emphasized that climate change is real and that major storms can happen whenever, while urging the system to be weatherized.

“You need to maintain adequate reserve. And we need to open up our Texas grid because right now — we have a closed grid. We can’t get generation from outside of the state because of our system. And then it’s a market driven system,” Turner said. “When the demand exceeds the supply, the cost that the generators can charge can go from a few thousand to 9,000 megawatts. All of this was foreseeable.”

 

Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX)

Hurd said on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press” that Texas’ power grid failures were “100 percent” preventable, pointing to “lack of leadership” and long-term planning, when asked if the crisis is on the Texas government.

“100 percent this was preventable,” Hurd said. “This wasn’t a problem with any individual fuel source. This was a problem of lack of leadership and lack of long term planning.”

Hurd mentioned hearings in 2011 in the state legislature that brought up a “black swan event.”

“You know, in 2011, there were hearings in the Statehouse talking about ensuring that there was reliability. ERCOT and state leaders at the time said that these — the energy companies could self-regulate and make sure that happens. We can have cheap prices and reliable energy at the same time,” Hurd said. “And you know, we always talk about, this was a black swan event. This was an event that doesn’t happen, you know, often. The only thing I’ve learned in my time in government and the CIA is that the only thing about black swans is that black swans actually happen, and we need to be prepared.”

Hurd believes that the failure of Texas’ power grid has caught the eye of foreign “enemies.”

“They could potentially use this and have a cyber-attack to do this kind of thing,” Hurd said. “So that’s a conversation we should be happening, once we get out of this, to make sure our power is reliable, and that, you know, every American has, has access to reliable and cheap energy

 

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

During an interview on CNN, McCaul was asked whether an assessment by Rick Perry, former Texas governor and energy secretary under former President Trump, was an “acceptable trade-off.” In response to Texans reeling from the energy crisis, Perry wrote in a blog post on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) site that “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”

After CNN’s Dana Bash pointed out that Republicans have pushed deregulation for years, McCaul was asked whether the current crisis is a prime example of why some regulation is needed when it comes to protecting people’s health and safety.

McCaul conceded that “power-sharing would have been helpful, if we could have shared with other power grids.”

McCaul went on to argue that although a system that takes an independent approach instead of relying on federal oversight is good for matters concerning cybersecurity, that approach isn’t sufficient to address winter storms.

“Texas does have its own grid called ERCOT. It was set up that way to be independent of federal oversight and regulations. And, yes, that’s very good with things like cybersecurity,” McCaul said. “Not so good when it comes to an arctic blast like this one.”

Like Hurd, McCaul pointed to hearings in the state legislature in the aftermath of a “really bad freeze.”

“In 2011, the state legislature, after we had a really bad freeze, came out with a bipartisan report with recommendations to the energy companies and ERCOT as to how to winterize our operations,” McCaul said. “The difference between Texas and, say, the Northeast, is, we’re not prepared for this. We’re not used to this kind of weather. So, when it happened, our entire energy system was not winterized for subzero-degree temperature, as it is in the Northeast. That is what we’re going to be taking a look at moving forward, are these recommendations were made in 2011.”

Asked later in the interview about the downright anger that Texas Republican leaders are facing, whether it’s Abbott or Cruz, McCaul first praised Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) for “crossing party lines” to raise millions of dollars for Texans in need.

McCaul went on to swipe at Cruz for his ill-timed Cancún decampment.

“I know that some are taking heat. Look, when a crisis hits my state, I’m there. I’m not going to go on some vacation. I know Mr. Cruz called it a mistake, and he’s owned up to that. But I think that was a big mistake,” McCaul said. “And, as for me, I was on the ground trying to help my people out and my constituents. And that’s what we should be doing in a time of crisis, just like we did during the hurricane season as well.”

McCaul also acknowledged that climate change is real when asked whether the Texas energy crisis is evidence of that.

“Well, I managed the Paris accord on the floor last year. I think I surprised some of my colleagues across the aisle when I said, I”m not saying it’s not happening,” McCaul said. “I think I think it’s real. I think the question is how to deal with it.”

McCaul then called for a “Manhattan-type project to deal with clean energy,” referring to the Manhattan Project that the country used to develop the atomic bomb in World War II.

“I think these micro-nuclear devices, which I have had a lot of conversations with my state counterparts about — we have one nuclear facility in Texas. Why aren’t we bringing in these micro-nuclear devices that can produce a ton of energy with zero carbon emissions, ideas like that, that we can put forward?” McCaul said. “Tying ourselves to an agreement with China that doesn’t have to comply until 2030 — that’s a developing nation under the United Nations charter — doesn’t seem to be a really good idea, unless we can change that paradigm with the Paris accords.”

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