In the wake of last February’s devastating blackouts, citizens of the Lone Star State should know that the conditions that gave rise to them have not yet been remedied – despite Governor Greg Abbott’s repeated assurances that the Texas grid has been “fixed.” Worse yet, he is about to miss yet another opportunity to get that critical task done. When the legislature meets next, I call on Gov. Abbott to direct the State Legislature to finally – truly — protect our grid against all hazards, and not to leave Austin until it has done so.
The deadly grid-down crisis, which caused more than $100 billion in economic losses, and cost the lives of more than 150 Texans, occurred despite many warnings to Governor Abbott about the vulnerabilities of the electric grid. Unless concerted action is taken immediately to enhance capacity and build in resiliency, more disruptions are certain to happen this summer, to say nothing of next winter.
For example, Gov. Abbott was warned in a 2015 letter from twenty-three members of the Texas congressional delegation that “The federal government has struggled to address the vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure at the national level.” Additionally, they urged the adoption of “measures that maximize the resiliency of our electric grid against all hazards.”
Unfortunately, Greg Abbott failed to act.
Again, in 2018, a bipartisan group of members of the Texas congressional delegation conveyed to Governor Abbott their “strong recommendation that action must be taken with the utmost urgency at the state level” to “help Texas lead by example by creating workable solutions to protect the electric grid from all hazards . . . ”
Again, Greg Abbott failed to heed the warning.
Recognizing the grid’s vulnerabilities and the opportunity for Texas to lead, Texas Senator Bob Hall authored legislation to promote all-hazards grid resilience in 2015, 2017, 2019, and again in 2021. During each session, the electric power industry lobbied heavily against the legislation, and each time the legislature failed to pass it. Greg Abbott did nothing to overcome such opposition.
Sen. Hall’s latest bill – S.B. 1606 – proposed a “Grid Security Commission” to focus on measures to protect the Texas grid from all such hazards. The bill had 23 co-sponsors, nearly three-quarters of the Senate. Despite such overwhelming support, the bill was referred to the House State Affairs Committee and, without Gov. Abbott’s leadership, it never got out of committee.
Incredibly, Governor Abbott has, nonetheless, repeatedly assured Texans that their grid is now “fixed.” On June 21st, he claimed: “The legislature passed comprehensive reforms to fix all of the flaws that led to the power failure.” He also said that the “bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.” These representations are, to put it charitably, untrue.
As a matter of fact, experts concur that, of the 26 bills related to the electric grid that were filed in the last state legislative session, only eight passed – and none of them will require “all-hazards” protection of the ERCOT grid. In reality, despite the Governor’s assurances, it is doubtful that any of these new laws will compel the utilities to even adequately weatherize the state’s grid so as to prevent another cold-induced blackout, let alone the other threats to the grid, the economy, and public health and safety that it critically supports.
Governor Abbott has one more chance to actually fix our state’s grid. He has called a special session of the Texas Legislature that began last week to address unresolved issues. Almost immediately, a recess was called until Tuesday, though committees still met. One of the most serious of these issues is the resiliency of the Texas grid. The legislature must act to do so now.
If Governor Abbott actually, finally wants to lead on this front, he should urge the legislature to resurrect S.B. 1606 (and its identical companion bill in the Texas House – H.B. 3792), when they reconvene on Tuesday. The bill should be amended, if needed, and get it to his desk for signature.
The alternative to Greg Abbott directing the Special Session to truly fix the grid now and ensuring that the legislature gets it doneis to condemn the people of Texas to more needless – and potentially far worse – devastation when, not if, the grid goes down again. And, in that case, the blame will rest squarely with the Governor.
For God, Country, and Texas!
Col. Allen B. West (Ret.)