Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was caught fleeing to Cancún, Mexico, on Wednesday as his home state and mine fell apart during a blackout that left millions of his constituents — including me and many of my friends and relatives — without power, heat, water or food. Once caught, he returned home, blamed his kids for the trip and had the gall to call himself a good father. (I’m so sorry, girls.)
That Cruz is a pathetic excuse for democratic representation is so obvious, it was hardly worth the stinging sensation it caused in my frozen fingers to type it. Cruz absconding to Cancún may be this week’s most dramatic display of this state’s lack of leadership, but it’s hardly the only one.
Let’s start with the Texas state Legislature, which insisted on keeping Texas’ energy grid separate and independent from the rest of the country so that their buddies in the energy sector didn’t have to comply with federal regulations. When studies showed that winter storms in 2011, 1998 and more caused power outages because equipment from power generators wasn’t winterized, they were able to just ignore them. And when the Texas grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), failed to perform inspections of generator facilities, they could still write a report to the Public Utility Commission of Texas saying everything looks good for winter 2021. Because, hey, one-third of the board of ERCOT doesn’t even live in Texas and the utility commission is just three people appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, so they’re not going to look into it.
Our entire electrical grid is a laissez faire system set up to benefit the energy industry and leave consumer welfare to chance.
Cruz absconding to Cancún may be this week’s most dramatic display of this state’s lack of leadership, but it’s hardly the only one.
Then there’s Abbott, who used this opportunity — when his constituents were freezing and without food or water — to go on national television and lie about wind and solar power being the culprits for the outage. The next day, his own energy team at ERCOT revealed that a lack of winterization, primarily from the state’s natural gas providers, caused most of the outages. (Even now that it’s been debunked, Republican state legislators continue to claim that renewable energy will let you down in extreme cold weather. Somebody better tell Antarctica. Or North Dakota. )
Abbott then moved on to blaming ERCOT, the third-party grid operator that was created by the Texas Legislature in the 1970s to direct the Texas energy market. Of course, any recommendations ERCOT makes can be promptly overruled by the utility commission, which, as I mentioned, is currently made up of three people appointed by Abbott. The deflection was astounding, and it goes to show how stupid Abbott thought his freezing, hungry and thirsty constituents were. The Texas Legislature created ERCOT for corporate interests, the Republican Party of Texas has overseen it for decades and now they’re going to pretend to disassemble it. Later they’ll presumably rebuild it with a new name and pretend they fixed something.
Meanwhile, ERCOT continues to claim that this winter storm couldn’t have been predicted, which is patently false. In addition to the storm being forecast a week ahead of time, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after similar though less widespread power outages in 2011 warned that below-average temperatures accompanied by generation outages also occurred in 1989, 2003 and 2010. In all cases, the report said, many energy providers failed to winterize their generation and plant auxiliary equipment.
But it’s not just the state; city leaders failed us, too.
Abbott's deflection was astounding, and it goes to show how stupid he thought his freezing, hungry and thirsty constituents were.
In Austin, the city-owned utility Austin Energy was vague and misleading about how long people would be without power, leaving them unable to adequately prepare. In Houston and Dallas, the story was the same. Local utilities announced the possibility of “rolling” blackouts — an hour or less — rotating around the city so that the entire grid wouldn’t go down. Instead, more than 40 percent of cities lost power for two to five days while some 60 percent of people had no idea power outages were even happening and kept using power normally, further delaying the possibility of those without power getting back online.
Adding insult to injury for Austinites stuck in their freezing homes, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk attended a virtual news conference at City Hall looking warm in a short sleeve polo shirt (though city officials tell NBC News his own home had been without power for four days, and he'd removed other layers after walking to the heated city facility to avoid sweating on camera) while Austin Mayor Steve Adler sat in front of a painting offset by accent lighting while imploring those with electricity in their homes to turn off all unnecessary power and lower their thermostats. (You might remember Adler from November when he recorded a video — from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — urging Austinites to stay home to avoid the spread of Covid-19.)
Downtown skylines, model homes and sports arenas were lit up for days with no intervention from city officials or utilities. Travis County Judge Andy Brown eventually stepped in, ordering all manufacturing, industrial and commercial businesses to “minimize nonessential processes and operations to the greatest extent possible,” but their power was never forcibly cut off as it was for individuals.
From the highest-ranking elected officials to local civil servants, the priority for so many Texas leaders was made clear during this calamity: profits, money and the corporations who bring them to Texas. If only the people remember that on the next Election Day.