Dem Speaker Saved NW Texas from ERCOT
that Lubbock Joining Despite Power Crash

Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside
February 22, 2021

West Texas Democrat Pete Laney could see the handwriting on the wall in his last session as the state House speaker 20 years ago when he made sure that the Lubbock and Amarillo areas wouldn't be part of the grid that would supply power to most Texans as a spinoff of electric deregulation here.

The Panhandle and the South Plains that's Laney's home base didn't suffer like most of the rest of the state when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas froze up and all but shut down in the deadly deep freeze that left millions of people in the biggest cities without heat or power for several days last week.

But Laney had been a proactive leader who believed that government had an obligation to protect the people - and he could see the potential for disaster when private energy companies were allowed to run ERCOT like a business while the state effectively looked the other way. Laney, who served 10 years as the lower chamber's top leader, made the highly unusual move co-sponsoring legislation that exempted his part of the world from the power grid that failed its most critical test last week. Most of the Lone Star State's northwest strip was prepared for the bad weather because the local utility companies are tied into a multi-state grid that's federally regulated.

The folks in Lubbock where Laney lives now will be hearing the other side of the story late Monday afternoon when Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has a press conference there to discuss the storm and what he's doing to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. But Patrick will be making a sales pitch for ERCOT as well now that Lubbock is on the verge of joining the state grid now with the expiration of the exemption in the bill that Panhandle Republican Warren Chisum authored in the House 2001 when Laney was the only Democrat on a list of 10 co-sponsors.

Patrick will make the case that Texas is better off with the status quo as a result of federal standards that are fueling a transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources that are needed to try to help save the planet from climate change. Governor Greg Abbott and Patrick have both been determined to keep the oil and gas and coal industries as prosperous as possible in the short-term regardless of science.

“The feds don’t allow you to build nuclear anymore, they’re shutting down the coal and they’ve taken away all the incentives from people investing in natural gas plants because they are giving all their incentives to the renewables,” Patrick said on Monday at a press event in Sugar Land.

Patrick and Abbott think the answer is to fix the antiquated current power that GOP leaders and legislators have letting electric utilities and other energy interests run without regulations like those in place for other basic public services that are required for survival. Abbott has made the winterization of the energy infrastructure an emergency item in the regular session that's already gone six full weeks without a single accomplishment. The governor hasn't indicated how much such an undertaking could end up costing the taxpayers in Texas.

But the state's two highest-ranking leaders and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan want to know first how and why the blackouts across most of the state transpired. The House will began its investigation into the power crash on Thursday with a joint meeting of the State Affairs Committee and the Energy Resources Committee at the Capitol.

The House panels plan "to consider the factors that led to statewide electrical blackouts during the recent unprecedented weather event; the response by industry, suppliers, and grid operators; and changes necessary to avoid future power interruptions," according to a public notice on the emergency meeting. 

GOP State Reps. Chris Paddie of Marshall and Craig Goldman of Fort Worth are the chairmen of the State Affairs Committee and Energy Resources Committee respectively. The public won't be allowed to testify in the hearing on the House ERCOT probe that will focus on information from the industry.

Patrick launched a Texas Senate investigation into the disaster complete with the threat of subpoenas for people who are invited to testify and refuse to do so.

more to come ...





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