Former Governor: Texans Should Suffer for Unregulated Energy

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.

Also from the Houston Chronicle:

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:

“No one owes you [or] your family anything,” Tim Boyd wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB/KRBC. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”…

…“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.

Texas resident Andrew Exum writes at The Atlantic,

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.

Speaking of asses, a couple of chapters closed today — Rush Limbaugh is dead, and the last of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos was destroyed with dynamite. Not all the news is bad.

23 thoughts on “Former Governor: Texans Should Suffer for Unregulated Energy

  1. KKKonservatives, with no coherent governing principle(s) any more, have only one goal in politics left: "Own the libs!

    The tragic thing is, they never consider the true cost of what it takes to " own" us.

    It costs a lot of lives. 

    Of both Black AND White people.

    You KKKonsevatives want to own something?

    Buy a pet.*  

    Better yet, adopt one.**

    *My apologies in advance to any pets hurt as a consequence of my making this statement.

    **Ditto.

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  2. I'm not ashamed to say "good riddance, Rush Dimbulb". I'm frightened for all the nitwits he inspired who are worse.

    Fox News and other wingnuts are spinning the Texas debacle as what happens when libs suppress "drill baby drill". IOW, blame it on the libs.

    Love that Mayor Boyd had to resign. That's positive.

    Read that Rick Perry is pushing mini-fusion reactors as the answer to everything. Problem is, there are no working fusion reactors of any kind at this point in time.

    My favorite off color joke I read about Texas: "when the earth needed an enema, Texas is where they stuck in the hose". Thank God I don't live there.

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  3. I wonder what Federal taxes Texas receives from the Federal government.  I also wonder where the taxes are spent and on what Texas programs.  There are many stats that show that a large portion of the Federal tax dollars that go to the red states comes from the blue states.  So, whose getting and taking a handout?

  4. I know how TX will handle this and if you will allow, there's a story that illustrates.

    About 60 years ago, I lived on a 'farm.' A few acres of blackberries but we had a zoo of animals, including a few donkeys. One day my dad got up for work at Hewlett-Packard as a tech. Making the rounds before he left, one of the donkeys had died. No external injuries, but he was dead as a stone on the barn floor..

    That part of California is shale. Digging a burro-sized grave by hand wasn't an option. My dad asked one of the engineers what to do with a dead donkey.

    "Sell raffle tickets," he said.

    "What?" I'm trying to get rid of an animal carcass."

    "Right. SO you sell tickets for the doneky for $1 each." the engineer explained.

    "Nobody's gonna buy a raffle ticket for a dead donkey."

    "You don't tell them it's dead. After the winning ticket  is picked, the only person who will complain is the winner and you can give him his dollar back."

    It's funny, a brilliant con, and it does nothing to deal with the carcass. That's what will happen in TX. They will spend the least amount of money to get the grid up, do a lot of flashy investigations (the equivalent of a raffle) tell everybody thanks for participating. They'll put a band-aid on what's broke and NEVER address the hard issue of electric infrastructure. 

    In five years there will be NO significant changes to the TX grid. No attempts to weatherize if it costs more than the cheap pipe foam. Fixing this may be expensive – TX doesn't want to raise rates on the industrial consumers of electricity. Jacking up rates for the average consumer might create a political backlash that benefits democrats. Here's the good news. TX is getting bluer with every election, 

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    • Good news?  The prospect of cleaning up the mess that is Texas sounds more like a curse to me.  R's have had a free run their for twenty years.  They value and brag about their ability to lie and deny. 

      Do you think Mexico would take back at least a part  of it?

    • Getting blue or shopping for sanity?  Are they tough enough to change?  Or the big question, can they handle the truth?  It's not Huston we have a problem  it's Houston you are a problem.

  5. <i>Rational people ought to be able to understand that the Free Market is not a magic wand. </i>

    A favourite quote about the free market

    <blockquote>That any sane nation, having observed that you could provide for the supply of bread by giving bakers a pecuniary interest in baking for you, should go on to give a surgeon a pecuniary interest in cutting off your leg, is enough to make one despair of political humanity. </blockquote>
    George Bernard Shaw The Doctor's Dilemma

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  6. My De-Reg story:

    I live in CT, which fell for the hype & privatized ("deregulated") it's energy utilities in 1998.  A few towns – including mine – kept their Municipal Utilities, but most got sucked in by the promise of cheaper electricity.  For a few years, there was flashy competition – a bunch of new companies offering Low, Low, [introductory] Rates to suck customers away from each other – but that didn't last long.  Most went belly up; the lone survivor (now "Eversource", but the name will probably change again soon) has predictably focused on regulatory capture, lobbying States for rate increases & more deregulation.

    They were doing fine until we had some freak weather here, 5-6 (?) years ago.

    First big hit was a blizzard in October.  Trees still had their leaves; snow stuck to them; many fell; many took out local power lines.  Many people had no power for a week; one guy worked with had no power for 3 weeks.

    That winter brought more big storms – including freezing rain/sleet, which is way worse than snow – and the same people lost power for another week each time.

    It turns out that Eversource had kept their profits up by laying off Maintenance workers and Linemen.  Whooda thunk it?  They had skimped on off-season tree-trimming, leaving trees hanging over lines, with the obvious result.  When the lines came down, they had to hire linemen from other states to fix things.  I saw utility trucks with plates from as far away as Wisconsin & Missouri (thanks, Maha!).  We all applauded them, but being unfamiliar with the territory, they really weren't as efficient as local linesmen would have been.

     

    I lost power a couple times that winter, too, but never for more than 8 hours.  My locally owned Utility employs local people who know the local roads & lines, so they knew how to get right to the breaks.  And they had spent the off-season driving around, looking for trees hanging over the lines.  Bonus: vast majority of their wages get recycled into the local economy.

     

    In economic parlance, energy utilities are a "natural monopoly"; it would be silly for multiple providers to each string their own wires (high "entry costs" reduce competition).  The US has historically dealt with this problem with public regulation of privately owned Utilities, but – particularly since the 1980's – the Financial Engineers have determined that Regulatory Capture is more profitable than wasting money on hourly workers.  Lobbyists don't Unionize…

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  7. The state’s insistence on self-reliance and private, unregulated providers competing for business worked well for them, until now.

     

    Yeah, and Thelma and Louise got away in a magic flying car for a few seconds. Of course, that's not a totally fair analogy, since they didn't have a lot of good options.

    It really goes to the core of conservative governance. Smart people — or even people of average intelligence — know that to be in charge means keeping track of the things "most people couldn't foresee." My workplace has a plan for what happens if our building burns down. I don't know it, but my boss does. That's how bosses are supposed to work. That's not how conservatives work. The whole point is to tell the average stupid person sitting at home that it doesn't take any intelligence to run a city or a state.

    “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.

     

    You can tell the toaster salesman or the TV salesman "OK forget it; I'm not buying today" and go home. You can't do that with electricity or health care. It's not difficult, but it's beyond conservatives.

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    • All a writer can do is put words together. A good writer can do it with effect.   This effort gets a reread and more.

      One swallow does not make a summer.

      But you damn sure nailed it on that one.

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    • The corollary is that government isn't supposed to do anything unless somebody gets hurt, bad enough. It's totally reactive, for people with no vision.

    • Fox news is referring to him as Fled Cruz. Sounds like something Rush Limp-pud would come up with. It's on par with Rush's Trousergate ridicule of Sandy Berger.

  8. One of the things I've been thinking about is how this big cold snap could turn TX blue. It might just be enough to tip it over the edge. They could use someone like Stacey Abrams to mobilize every blue voter out there and make it happen.

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    • IF.. and I've said before that's the biggest two-letter word in the English language – IF Democrats show Texans that a year after the disaster, the GOP and the utilities are not doing a DAMN thing to winterize the grid, then SOME Texans who got really screwed in the freeze will look twice at making utilities responsible for doing more than protecting the bottom line. And the GOP in TX never will. 

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