Climate Change, Corruption and Cancún

The extreme weather and massive power outages in Texas seem very unprecedented, and they are. However, the story of Texas’s loss of power is the inevitable result of inept leadership, privatization and deregulation for the Lone Star State’s grid.

Our story starts in 1999, when then-governor George W. Bush deregulated Texas’s power grid, giving control of the state’s infrastructure to private companies for generation, transmission and retail. This deregulation was built on promises of lower prices and increased choice, and that is largely what happened.

Texas started a great experiment with more private and deregulated electricity, thanks to their abundant wind and natural gas deposits. With these companies competing for lower and lower prices, and the prospect of extreme weather being so ‘far-fetched,’ there was no incentive for their companies to prepare the grid for extreme weather.

However, the consequences of this failure to act were felt much earlier than 2021. In 2011, a massive storm struck Texas, calling into question the grid’s ability to handle extremes. Then again, in 2014, frigid temperatures caused a complete failure of infrastructure around the state. Finally, the state’s regulatory board called for regulations of the power grid.

However, companies resisted regulation, calling it unnecessary. The Texas Public Utility Commission, bowing to big money, softened their regulations. ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that runs the power grid for almost all of the state, continued to work with little rule and oversight.

This brings us to Feb. 15, 2021. Texas faced record-low temperatures, bringing the temperature to single digits in major cities. This meant that the roads were impassable, and the state’s electric grid began to fail. Nearly 4.5 million Texas residents were out of power, leaving people without heat or the means to have clean water. ‘Rolling blackouts’ designed to spread its existing power to everyone turned from hours to days, as President Biden declared a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott went on Sean Hannity on Fox News. He warned that the situation “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America” and blamed freezing wind turbines. However, what he failed to mention is that the Green New Deal doesn’t exist in Texas and the reality of their electric sources.

The state’s private electric grid reported that only about 7% of its winter energy comes from wind turbines. Thermal energy like coal and natural gas, on the other hand, make up the vast majority of Texas’s energy grid. The consequences of this were seen during this crisis, where natural gas froze in its pipes and electricity could not reach the most vulnerable.

The Green New Deal is an idea, an idea for a massive infrastructure project across our country with investments in green energy. It would update our infrastructure to ready our country for the extreme impacts of climate change, such as winterizing Texas’s winter turbines. In fact, the state of Florida, like Texas, has a very low sea level and long coasts, putting the state at unique risk for sea-level rise and the increasing quantity and severity of natural disasters. The Green New Deal is necessary to prevent further disasters like we saw in Texas. 

The consequences of regulation and privatization in Texas were felt this year. The lessons learned from this crisis need to be heard around our country. However, Republican politicians that put profits over our people and our planet will never change. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is an example of this.

At the height of Texas’s crisis, photos surfaced on social media showing a man that looked an awful lot like Ted Cruz and his wife Heidi in an airport, boarding a flight to Cancún, Mexico. Many, including me, were skeptical that even Ted Cruz would leave his people during such a time of crisis, but the reports were later confirmed.

Instead of taking responsibility and owning up to his mistakes, Cruz blamed his 10- and 12-year-old children, telling the media he just wanted “to be a good dad.” Apparently, in the Cruz family, the children hold absolute power.

While there is some hope things will change, as several ERCOT officials resign, we must realize this situation is indicative of a much larger pattern. As the impacts of climate change become more apparent, extreme weather events like that in Texas will become more and more common.

We cannot demonize green energy and infrastructure plans that will bring our country into the 21st century. Instead, we must embrace them. More importantly, we must hold our politicians accountable because not even a historic climate and energy crisis in Texas could stop their Senator from going on vacation with our tax dollars.

Featured image: Deep Ellum sidewalk covered with snow in Dallas snowstorm 2021 by Matthew T Rader used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3c1uInl)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.