Patrick Launches Senate Probe on Power Crash
with Warning on Bids by Lobbyists to Intervene
February 20, 2021
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick vowed on Friday to have the Texas Senate launch an investigation next week into the cause of the historic winter power crash with a warning that he wouldn't be deterred by high-rolling lobbyists trying to cover up for the people who he plans to hold accountable for the crisis.
"We're gonna get the answers," Patrick declared in an appearance on the Laura Ingraham show on Fox News. "We'e going to find out what the hell went wrong."
Patrick took a cue from Governor Greg Abbott in an attempt to use the disaster here as a hook for an argument on why Texas can't rely on wind energy in a pinch. Patrick said the power failure and the eventual recovery had exposed how Texas must rely on fossil fuels and can't depend on wind and other renewable energy sources.
But Patrick focused his wrath on the Electric Reliaibility Council of Texas - asserting that the nonprofit utility cooperative that manages the power system had assured state leaders late last week that the grid wasn't at risk. The lieutenant governor said that he'd been intentionally misled by ERCOT or that the electric utilities that run the grid had lied to the indepedent agency.
"We were not prepared," Patrick said. "We were not told the truth."
Patrick promised that he wouldn't allow the Austin lobby to cover up for the guilty that the Senate probe identified. "We're not going to let lobbyists with $5,000 suits come in and defend various people," the lieutenant governor warned.
Patrick took a shot at Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke when asked about his criticism of ERCOT and GOP leaders during the deep freeze. "He wants to take our guns and our fossil fuel now apparently," Patrick said. "He has two fistfuls of what he wants to take from Texas."
Abbott had called for a probe into ERCOT earlier this week when he said the massive blackouts here were caused by windmills that froze. Neither Abbott or Patrick have acknowledged that Republican leaders in Austin had pushed to keep regulations lax on oil and gas interests by allowing the utilities that revolve on the grid to run it independently of typical state oversight.
GOP leaders and lawmakers had passed in 2011 on a chance to take a deeper look at ERCOT at the Sunset Advisory Commission when it reexamined the Public Utility Commission during the interim before the next regular session. While the Republicans voted to pair the PUC and ERCOT in the sunset review process, they gave the power agency a pass on another examination that won't be due until the session in 2023.
Former Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen had been a co-sponsor of the PUC sunset bill in 2011 in his role as the vice-chairman of Sunset at the time. Bonnen suggested that Republicans on the State Affairs Committee had decided that there'd been no need to tinker anymore with ERCOT despite the added opportunity with its packaging with the PUC bill.
"We chose not to put them in to the next session, because there was no real interest in ERCOT and we didn't feel there was a need to have them rereviewed," Bonnen said in a conversation on the floor in the 2011 session's final weekend with then-Democratic State Rep. Rene Oliveira of Brownsville.
"Well, I won't speak for all the people on state affairs committee, but there certainly was an interest in ERCOT and reviewing what they do and what they have done and what they have failed to do," Oliveira countered.