American Opinion: Texas is the king of energy states. Why can’t that state keep the power on?
Summary: An uncertain power grid requires better communication from leaders. A late Friday news dump is a classic technique to bury bad news, not rouse the public to action.
Ah, the rituals of a Texas summer: A run through the sprinklers. A hot grill and a cold beer. A trip to Dairy Queen.
Add to that cranking up the thermostat , frantically shutting off electronics and staying up until midnight to get laundry and dishes done, thanks to our increasingly questionable power supply. Not just in this unseasonably hot week, but for the foreseeable future.
Late Friday, the overseers of Texas’ power grid urged residents to curtail their power use because of high demand as temperatures climbed and a handful of power plants unexpectedly went offline . It’s become a frequent, if irregular, irritant any time there’s unusual weather, thanks to the epic fail of February 2021.
The warnings continue this week, with temperature records in danger across North Texas and elsewhere.
The notification Friday came as most Texans were in their cars on the way home or cranking up to cook dinner and slide into the weekend. Call that a new Texas tradition, too — poor communication, if not downright obfuscation, from the folks in charge.
The underlying problems are many, and the electricity market is complicated, in part by the task of balancing demand with a supply that has to be delivered in real time. There are issues of pricing, oversight and Texas’ continuing refusal to connect to the larger U.S. power supplies. But one thing is increasingly clear: Texas needs more power supply
After all, two factors will not change. The state’s robust population growth shows no signs of abating, and extreme weather, often at times we don’t traditionally expect, will be more frequent as climate change settles in.
And while we continue to make our homes and machines more efficient, we also gradually demand more power for things like electric cars and crypto mining.
Power plants can’t be thrown up in a few weeks like a new corner Starbucks. But Texas leaders need to do all they can to expedite the process. State incentives for additional power capacity are a starting point; our deregulated market doesn’t reward companies for having backup generation they don’t often use. Our congressional delegation can help by leaning on federal regulators to smooth the way for new plants as much as is reasonable.
There’s little left to debate about connecting to our neighbors in case we need help. Texas is surrounded by two giant grids serving the rest of the country . At this point, any argument against joining the union is outweighed by the possibility of the lights going off.
An uncertain power grid requires better communication from leaders. A late Friday news dump is a classic technique to bury bad news, not rouse the public to action.
And some offered a weak explanation amounting to, ”Hey, we’ve always had these problems, but now we’re telling you about them.” That doesn’t inspire confidence.
Gov. Greg Abbott has sought primarily to reassure Texas that reforms enacted in 2021 fixed the problem. Governance and oversight have improved, but he should be straightforward that work remains to be done. He should appeal to Texans’ practicality in the face of challenges and explain clearly the need to expand the power supply.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a populist at heart, gets it. Friday night, he issued a strong statement about the need for greater reliability , specifically through more electric capacity.
The notion of blackouts when we need power the most — again — is maddening for Texans. It adds to the overall sense that our institutions and politics aren’t up to the challenges of the day.
Better communication, and in particular honesty about the needs going forward and the trade-offs necessary to fulfill them, are the only way to ease the public’s mind.
This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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