Texas grid failure ignites feud over GOP oversight of energy industry
The Texas blackout, which left millions struggling with no power in freezing conditions, sparked a feud between Democrats and the GOP over decades of Republicans’ control of the energy industry and calls for a system that is more resilient to extreme weather conditions.
Texas avoided federal regulation by building its own power grid, almost cut off from the rest of the country – an isolated system long lauded by conservatives in power.
But the system collapsed this week due to a surge in energy demands associated with frozen utilities during a brutal winter storm that then raised energy prices and triggered the state’s worst blackouts in decades.
Former MP Beto O’Rourke, D-TX, accused Texas Republican leaders of prioritizing “stupid culture wars”, such as efforts to make Texas a “protective state,” rather than protecting residents from extreme weather events have been made worse by climate change.
“So much of it was preventable,” O’Rourke said in an interview with MSNBC this week. “Back to the deregulation of our power grid in Texas, which has created an incentive not to actually weather or protect against these events.”
“The energy capital of North America cannot provide enough energy to heat and power people’s homes,” O’Rourke continued. “We are approaching a failed state in Texas. And it has nothing to do with God or natural disasters. It has everything to do with those in positions of public trust who have failed us.”
Fifty-nine-year-old David Mudge wipes a tear off after record-breaking winter temperatures in Galveston, Texas on February 18, 2021 while seeking refuge at a shelter.
Adrees Latif | Reuters
The outages led to widespread public criticism of lawmakers and government agencies for apparently ignoring warnings about the network’s inability to deal with extreme weather conditions. Energy experts said the collapse was partly due to the state’s decision not to require equipment upgrades for a more resilient system.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she expected the House of Representatives’ energy and trade committee to investigate energy issues in Texas.
Jennifer Granholm, President Joe Biden’s candidate for energy minister, said the US had to upgrade its grid infrastructure as soon as possible. “One thing is certain: America’s power grid is simply unable to handle extreme weather events,” she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
Although the GOP has overseen the state’s energy sector for decades, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, along with other Conservative heads of state, has mistakenly attributed the outages to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which make up only a small fraction of the state’s energy.
Abbott alleged in a Fox news interview earlier this week that reliance on wind and solar power “put Texas in a nationwide power shortage situation,” an argument his own energy department contradicted.
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Julian Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, tweeted, “Governor Abbott did not prepare for this storm, was too slow to react, and is now blaming everyone but himself for the mess.”
“He’s neglected the state’s outdated and deregulated power grid,” said Castro, who also served as secretary for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Rick Perry, former Texas Governor and Secretary of Energy for the Trump administration, said Wednesday that Texans would prefer to endure even longer outages “to keep the federal government out of its business” and prevent Democrats from regulating the Implement the fight against climate change.
However, the vast majority of outages this week were due to issues with limited natural gas production and frozen supplies from natural gas, coal and nuclear power plants – not solar and wind outages.
Empty shelves in the meat aisle at a grocery store in McKinney, Texas, the United States, on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
Cooper Neill | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Although the sun and wind went offline because frozen leaves made wind turbines inoperable, these technologies only make up a small fraction of Texas’s electricity. The state has ramped up wind power in recent years, but only relies on wind for 25% of its electricity generation, according to the Texas Electric Reliability Council.
Texas Republican lawmakers, who poked fun at Democratic-led blackouts during California’s extreme heatwaves, were also criticized this week after the power grid collapse resulted in blackouts in their home state.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in August accused Biden and Kamala Harris, who were running for president and vice president at the time, of trying to make California’s “failed energy policy the national standard.”
Photos on Thursday’s social media reportedly showed Cruz flew to Mexico despite millions of Texans still without heat in historically low temperatures.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Wrote in a tweet this week that the problems with the Texas power grid should be a message to lawmakers to watch their words in emergencies.
“I hope this will teach Texan politicians not to immerse themselves in other states when they are going through disasters,” wrote Gallego. “All Americans deserve help and empathy from other Americans, regardless of whether it is a blue or a red state.”