It’s Wednesday. Between two and three million Texans have been without power since Monday. The heads of the Texas energy system, ERCOT, can’t say when regular power will resume. Temperatures have been dipping into single digits, and the roads are treacherously icy. Pipes have burst, leaving households without water as well as without heat. According to this BBC report, there have been an unusual number of deaths from traffic accidents. Many have tried to warm themselves with generators in the house, or in running cars, risking carbon monoxide poisoning.
One county said it had seen more than 300 suspected carbon monoxide cases during the cold snap. “It’s turning into a mini mass casualty event,” one Harris County doctor told the Houston Chronicle.
At least four people were killed following a house fire in Houston that officials said may have been sparked by candles. Separately, police said two men found alongside a Houston highway were believed to have died due to the cold.
I am seeing on social media that people are also getting low on food. Groceries are not being stocked, and a lot of groceries are closed.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry is speaking out … against energy regulations. The Houston Chronicle:
Former Texas governor Rick Perry suggests that going days without power is a sacrifice Texans should be willing to make if it means keeping federal regulators out of the state’s power grid. …
… “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry is quoted as saying. “Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.”
I wonder how Texans without power feel about that. It is unfortunately the case, however, that minority neighborhoods are getting the worst of it, meaning the rich white folks are probably staying warm and well fed.
As I wrote yesterday, a big reason Texans are suffering right now is that Texas has maintained a power grid that is mostly unconnected with those of other states, so that it can avoid federal regulations. See especially Texas seceded from the nation’s power grid. Now it’s paying the price. at WaPo. The state’s insistence on self-reliance and private, unregulated providers competing for business worked well for them, until now. But there is no financial incentive for investing in backup systems. There is no regulation forcing anyone to invest in backup systems. And because Texas is disconnected from the rest of the nation’s energy grids, there is no way to redirect energy to Texas.
Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state’s deregulated power system, which doesn’t provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.
“The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” said Hirs. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.
“For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity,” said Hirs. “If you don’t make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It’s like not taking care of your car. If you don’t change the oil and tires, you can’t expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work.”
Rational people ought to be able to understand that the Free Market is not a magic wand. “Free market” competition is really good at offering consumers better toasters and television sets at lower prices. But it’s not so good at providing other things, like health care and reliable energy. One of these days Americans will figure this out, maybe.
By now you’ve probably heard about the epic meltdown of the mayor of Colorado City, Texas (population 3,920). It went like this:
…“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!” he wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.
Boyd suggested that residents without electricity should simply “step up and come up with a game plan.” Those without running water could either deal with it, or “think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family.” He did not offer any further guidance, such as where safe drinking water or reliable electricity could be found.
“Only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish],” he wrote.
Mayor Boyd has since resigned, saying he might have used “better wording.” The news stories don’t say if Boyd is a Republican, but what he said is pretty much the Republican theory of governance these days — don’t ask the government to do anything for you.
Current Gov. Greg Abbott gave his state of the state speech a couple of weeks ago. He described what he saw as priority issues for Texas. These included five “emergency” items he wants the legislature to address right away. These are expanding broadband internet access; punishing local governments that ‘defund the police’ as he defines it; changing the bail system; addressing “election integrity”; and providing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the pandemic. Abbott went on from there to call for more abortion restrictions; making Texas a “Second Amendment santuary state”; and new laws to stop “any government entity from shutting down religious activities in Texas,” including during a pandemic, I assume.
Expanding broadband is a good thing, and so is bail system reform, depending on how he wants to “reform” it. In the mouth of a Republican, however, “election integrity” is code for “finding new ways to suppress minority votes.” And the rest of his priorities are truly not needed, by anybody.
What did Abbott not mention? Vaccine distribution. Preparing schools to reopen. Helping those who have lost jobs because of the pandemic.
Fixing ERCOT will require actual governance, as opposed to performative governance, and that is something the state’s leadership has struggled with of late. Rather than address the challenges associated with rapid growth, the state’s elected leaders have preferred to focus on various lib-owning initiatives such as the menace of transgender athletes, whether or not NBA games feature the national anthem, and—in a triumph of a certain brand of contemporary “conservatism”—legislating how local municipalities can allocate their own funds.
I’m anxious to see how our governor, in particular, will respond to this crisis, because I have never witnessed a more cowardly politician. When Abbott faces a challenge—and he has faced several in the past year alone—you can always depend on him to take the shape of water, forever finding the path of least resistance. I have no idea why the man became a politician, as I can discern no animating motive behind his acts beyond just staying in office.
I have to say that Missouri’s Republican Governor Parsons is cut from the same cloth. I can’t tell if he actually does anything. Like Abbott, he has resisted statewide pandemic restrictions in favor of letting county and city governments set restrictions if they want to. He’s rarely heard from until somebody criticizes him for something; he responds with some form of tantrum. He’s utterly worthless. But the state government in general has become wonderfully efficient at not doing anything that people need it to do. Last I heard the legislature was debating a bill that would allow people to run over protesters with their cars without facing criminal charges.
And, of course, the rot goes all the way up. The national Republican Party can’t decide what it’s even about any more, other than kissing Donald Trump’s ass.