Major cities across the state have opened “warming centers,” and churches and schools have opened their doors, but when the roads are so treacherous, one wonders how the vulnerable are supposed to reach shelter. The entirety of North Texas has just 30 snowplows—or about as many as you would expect to see deployed in a single neighborhood in Chicago.
The biggest story for Texans, however, is the failure of our state’s electrical grid, managed by the inaccurately named Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. Texas, as part of its regular and continuing efforts to distance itself from federal oversight, maintains its own electrical grid—unique in the nation—which has been overwhelmed by the storm’s effects.
You might be surprised to learn that Texas is the Saudi Arabia of wind energy, and that wind turbines in the panhandle generate much of our power. Many of those turbines have failed in the low temperatures, and conservatives both in Texas and across the country have gleefully claimed as a result that renewables cannot be trusted to provide power in emergencies. There is, as ever, a very small grain of truth to that.
But the data—forever inconvenient to those looking to confirm their priors—suggest the failure goes well beyond renewables. If anything, wind and solar have overperformed in this crisis relative to fossil fuels, and to natural-gas-fired generation in particular. The irony of Texas—the natural-gas capital of the Western Hemisphere, where technological advances in hydraulic fracturing have remade the world’s energy map over the past decade—failing to generate enough natural-gas-fired power is lost on none of the state’s 29 million citizens.
Well, almost none of its 29 million citizens.
There is a certain kind of conservative politician here in Texas who spends a sizable part of his day obsessing about the state of California. Such politicians have spent much of the past few years mercilessly teasing the progressive leadership of California for the failures of the state’s power grid.
These politicians have been, for the most part, conspicuously quiet since the crisis began here. The state’s governor, Greg Abbott, has mostly popped up on reliably friendly media outlets—local news stations, the evening shows on Fox News—where he knows he will not face hard questions.
But hard questions will be asked, because the failures of ERCOT ultimately belong to the leaders of a state who insisted that, by design, the buck must stop with them and not with the federal government. “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” one expert told the Houston Chronicle. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”
Read: The energy interstate
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.