Some stories I blog about require subtle thought and detailed analysis. Others pretty much speak for themselves.
The two most powerful people overseeing Texas’ electric grid sat next to each other in a quickly arranged Austin news conference in early December to try to assure Texans that the state’s electricity supply was prepared for winter.
“The lights are going to stay on this winter,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, echoing recent public remarks by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Two weeks earlier, Abbott had told Austin’s Fox 7 News that he “can guarantee the lights will stay on.” The press conference that followed from Lake and the chief of the state’s independent grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, came at the governor’s request, according to two state officials and one other person familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“It was 150% Abbott’s idea,” said one of the people familiar with the communication from Abbott’s team. “The governor wanted a press conference to give people confidence in the grid.”
A source close to Lake said the idea for the press conference was Lake’s, and the governor supported it when Lake brought up the idea during a meeting.
Abbott has for months been heavily involved in the public messaging surrounding the power grid’s winter readiness. In addition to the press conference, he has asked a major electric industry trade group to put out a “positive” public statement about the grid and has taken control of public messaging from ERCOT, according to interviews with current and former power grid officials, energy industry trade group representatives and energy company directors and executives.
But the messaging has projected a level of confidence about the grid that isn’t reflected in data released by ERCOT or echoed by some power company executives and energy experts who say they’re worried that another massive winter storm could trigger widespread grid failures like those that left millions of Texans without power in February, when hundreds of people died.
Abbott has also met one-on-one with energy industry CEOs to ask about their winter readiness — but those meetings happened weeks after Abbott made his public guarantee about the grid.
“You’d think he would have asked to meet with us before saying that,” one person involved in the energy company meetings, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said of Abbott’s guarantee.
Ten months after the power grid failures caused hundreds of deaths and became national news, an election year is approaching and Abbott’s two top primary challengers and his top Democratic challenger have already been harshly criticizing the governor over his handling of the power grid.
“It might be a good political move, but it’s just a political move,” Peter Cramton, an energy markets expert and former ERCOT board member who resigned after the storm, said of Abbott’s promise. “It’s not surprising. His fate is on the line. So this is a sensitive political issue now.”
The details may be news, but the basics have been known for some time. Abbott has bet the 2022 election on there not being a freeze big enough to cause another massive blackout. When we make it through the winter without anything bad happening – and let’s be honest, the odds of another freeze like this past February are pretty small, though perhaps the odds of any kind of freeze are higher – he will claim full credit for “fixing” the problem, even though he has done nothing of the sort. But who are you gonna believe, your own uninterrupted power supply or those yappy liberals?
I, being more risk averse and being the type of person who wants to actually, you know, do things, would not take this approach. But given that he was never going to advocate for something that would make a difference anyway, why not double down? The odds are in his favor, if not ever in his favor. Just remember that no matter what happens over the next three months or so, it was all bullshit. Every last bit of it.