Regulations: Texas energy fiasco shows need for oversight

By now, most Americans understand something went very wrong in Texas last week. Early efforts to play the blame game were off the mark, as some wanted to spread the idea the entire fiasco was the fault of wind and solar energy operations that had been frozen by an unusually harsh and long-lasting winter blast.

Texas isn’t known for priding itself on its renewable energy network, however. It is known for its pride in independence, thumbing its nose at the federal government, and fossil fuels. Most of the time, that combination appears to work quite well for Texas. Now we know what happens when it doesn’t.

More than 4 million people ended up without power for days. Many of those people were also without water once freezing pipes burst or the lack of electricity caused water pressure to be so low the water was undrinkable (and unboilable). Worse, at least 35 people are dead.

Texas, it seems, made the mistake of both bucking federal energy regulations AND failing to put its own preparations and measures of accountability in place. When CenterPoint Energy told customers it could give them rolling blackouts, so there was enough energy to kick the heat on occasionally in homes, it failed to deliver. Instead, millions of people found themselves in a days-long struggle the power companies had assured them would be avoided.

But they weren’t ready. No one, it seems, had insisted they be ready. So when millions of Texans turned on their heat against the chill, the demand for power rose. The already strained power grid then failed completely as, yes renewable sources switched off, but a major nuclear plant also lost half of its generation, and there were massive failures in coal, oil, and natural gas.

“If they had been honest with us from the beginning, we would have ordered evacuations. But they didn’t tell us that,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry. “What’s not manageable is to lose your power for days with a temperature in the single to double digits.”

Lying about how prepared a power company is, or who is to blame when the lights go off doesn’t do much to inspire confidence in the energy independence Texas has always bragged it has. If you have to lie to support a claim, the claim is not supportable.

Surely Texas lawmakers have seen enough. If they do not want to be under the thumb of the federal government in regulating and holding accountable their own energy industry, fine. But for goodness sake that does not mean they can just let the industry run wild, without a thought for maintenance, diversification, preparation and planning that could have saved the lives of dozens of Texans, and avoided a frightening and dangerous experience for millions more.


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