Residents of Texas welcomed warmer weather over the weekend as the state began to thaw out from last week’s cold front. But as thermometers inch towards 70 degrees this week, the state will be left to address a series of policy and political questions.
The top of that list is Texas’ electricity infrastructure. In contrast to other states, which are connected to federal grids, electricity in Texas is provided by a state-wide non-profit, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The group was founded in 1970, and energy independence has been a point of pride for Texas politicians and voters ever since.
Now, however, ERCOT has come under criticism by Texans who say they have warned for years that the state is not equipped for a natural disaster of this kind.
Tom Smith, the former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group, said his organization had raised the alarm about ERCOT’s disaster preparedness as early as 2011 during a similar crisis, but said the warnings went unheeded.
“Clearly we need to change our regulatory focus to protect the people, not profits,” Smith told the Texas Tribune. “Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits.”
Politically, too, the aftermath of the cold weather could prove to be just the beginning of a new storm for local officials, most prominently for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz faced withering criticism after news surfaced that he had gone on a family holiday in Mexico at the height of the crisis. That followed Cruz’s dismissal last summer of California’s “(inability) to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity” during the state’s rolling blackouts, and his warning that then-candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would “make CA’ failed energy policy the standard nationwide.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, too, was criticized for politicizing the massive power outage. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” he told Fox News.