The guy who writes The Watchdog for the DMN, for one. The people with real power in this state, not so much.
I was lonely.
For more than a decade, it was as if I were the only North Texas journalist regularly covering the flaws of the Texas electricity system. It’s not that I was so smart. I heard from hundreds of readers every year who complained about the confusing and unfair deregulated market.
Yet when the Texas Legislature met, nothing ever happened. An electricity activist, Carol Biedryzcki, promoted common-sense solutions that nobody listened to. Sylvester Turner, a former state representative who is now Houston’s mayor, introduced reform bills that never got voted on.
Another Houston representative, Gene Wu, introduced fix-it bills, too. Lawmakers who cared about the issue could fit in a small elevator.
It became obvious that no governor or state lawmaker wanted to tangle with what former U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said of the electricity industry: “The most powerful, dangerous lobby… that has ever been created by any organization in this country.”
Then came the horrific February freezeout, and everything changed. People died. Homes were ruined. Businesses were shuttered. The suffering was immeasurable for days. One of the worst Texas weather events ever.
The story was suddenly front and center. The Texas energy house of cards collapsed. Complete favoritism toward the industry was as obvious as the noontime sun. Right before our eyes, in real time, corruption flourished.
When the power returned, I began by pointing fingers at the governors, lawmakers, regulators and industry powerhouses who were responsible.
“Don’t count on state lawmakers to admit culpability,” I wrote. “And don’t trust their coming investigations to be unbiased.”
I released the 2021 edition of my annual electricity shopping guide. It’s a free step-by-step guide with tips that I’ve shared with tens of thousands of Texans, online, in the newspaper and as a paper flier.
DeAnn Walker, the chairperson of the (p)UC, who months before in a huff had eliminated the Enforcement Division, appeared before the state Senate. I called her the “incredible shrinking chairman.”
“You’re the commissioner!” one Republican senator chastised. “Y’all don’t have any teeth,” another scolded.
Her reply shows why she lost the P: “If you believe we have that authority, I’m open to moving forward with it,” Walker said. Believe it.
She resigned in disgrace and was replaced as chair by Arthur D’Andrea.
He lasted two weeks. In a 48-minute conference call with investors, first reported by Texas Monthly, he assured them he was doing everything within his power “to tip the scale as hard as I could” so billions of dollars in overcharges from the freezeout would not be reversed.
He laid out the strategy that would come later when lawmakers, the Texas Railroad Commission (regulating oil and gas) and the (p)UC approved the sale of $10 billion in bonds to pay back energy companies’ losses.
Unfortunately, companies that made millions of dollars during the crisis will see some of that bailout money, too.
Who repays the $10 billion? You. But don’t worry, it’s a long-term loan.
D’Andrea also told investors in that call that he didn’t “expect to see a ton” of improvements passed by lawmakers. He was correct. Although for the first time ever, many reform bills were introduced. Most died.
The Watchdog kept a scorecard for good reform bills. Most had notations of either “Stuck in committee” or “No action taken.”
Texans should not have been surprised at electric grid operator ERCOT’s failing. The non-profit was a cesspool of corruption years before. In 2005, a massive procurement scandal led to criminal convictions. Fake companies were created by ERCOT managers, and millions of dollars were siphoned from ERCOT funds.
There’s more, but you get the idea. A lot of this we’ve seen before, but there’s no harm in being reminded. Greg Abbott is counting on a normal winter and a whole lot of short attention spans to claim a victory for doing nothing. Don’t let him do it.