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LIGHTS OUT: Energy prices soar as Texas power grid fails again

LIGHTS OUT: Energy prices soar as Texas power grid fails again

LIGHTS OUT: Energy prices soar as Texas power grid fails again

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The Texas power grid is failing again. On Friday, Brad Jones, interim CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) –  the state’s power grid operator – released a cautionary statement that warned Texans that they must reduce energy consumption to prevent a collapse of the grid after a number of energy generating facilities failed and reduced the capacity of the grid by enough mega-wattage to power up to 580,000 homes.

“This afternoon, six power generation facilities tripped offline resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity. At this time, all generation resources available are operating. We’re asking Texans to conserve power when they can by setting their thermostats to 78-degrees or above and avoiding the usage of large appliances (such as dishwashers, washers and dryers) during peak hours between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. through the weekend,” Jones’ statement read.

In a not so convincing statement, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tried to “reassure” Texans about the grid, tweeting:

Amid record-high temperatures, even though summer has yet to begin, the threat of half a million people losing power doesn’t seem particularly reliable. This is the third time parts of the Texas grid have gone offline since the freeze in February 2021 left millions without power and hundreds dead.

It happened one more time last April and again in June, after which Abbott said, “Bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

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One person who was not convinced by Abbott’s pledge– then, or now – is Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke tweeted this post on Friday.

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The power shortage caused a surge in wholesale electric prices. According to the Houston Chronicle, ERCOT showed prices reached as high as $5000 per megawatt-hour. That’s over half of the $9000 per megawatt-hour price seen by some customers during the winter storm and almost 170 times more than the average $30.

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Business Insider reported that Army veteran Scott Willoughby told The New York Times that “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.” Willoughby’s bill, for just a few days of power usage – was $16,752.

In December 2021, a lawsuit was filed in a District Court against ERCOT and three dozen defendants. In the suit, Austin-based attorney Mary-Ellen King, on behalf of 131 plaintiffs states:

“The petition alleges that ERCOT and the other 36 defendants were at fault for an electrical energy failure that occurred within the State of Texas beginning on February 15, 2021 and continuing throughout the following week.”

An independent monitor for the Public Utility Commission of Texas found that ERCOT overcharged customers $16 billion for energy that was “not needed” or “produced.” They sent a letter to the PUC, recommending that ERCOT reverse the charges.

ERCOT declined to do so, despite Abbott pledging to make the overcharges an “emergency item” at the start of the 87th legislative session.

He sent a statement to the state’s House and Senate requesting “legislation relating to the correction of any billing errors by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), including any inaccurate excessive charges and any issues regarding ancillary service prices.”

In February 2022, former ERCOT CEO Bill Magness would tell a different story. He testified at a hearing before the Committee on State Affairs and Energy Resources that it was Abbott himself who ordered the inflated rates to remain in place in the days after the storm was over. Magness told the Committee that Public Utilities Commission Chair DeAnn Walker – per Abbott’s direction – “told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume.”
Two weeks after the storm, Magness was fired as CEO, and four other board members left. On March 1, 2021, The Public Utilities Commission sent a press release announcing Chair Walker’s resignation from PUC.
With the state of the Texas government’s energy management agencies in disarray — and after Abbott walked back his statements that the grid was fixed, saying “No one can guarantee that there won’t be a load-shed event” — in February, the one-year anniversary of the big freeze, Beto O’Rourke kicked off his “Keeping the Lights on Tour” in his native El Paso.
Unless Beto O’Rourke defeats Abbott to become Texas governor in November and Democrats can take command of the state legislature, Texans can expect more trouble with their energy infrastructure — more brownouts and blackouts — as long as Republicans. so beholden to existing corporate energy interests, continue to control the state’s levers of power.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

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Ty Ross
News journalist for Occupy Democrats.

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