The Chron made a perfectly fine endorsement.
It’s not easy to follow in the footsteps of outgoing Councilmember Robert Gallegos. As the lone Hispanic around the horseshoe, he has robustly represented his hometown and the most Hispanic district in Houston for nearly a decade.
Despite councilmembers’ relatively limited power, Gallegos made a name for himself on quality-of-life issues, advocating tirelessly to address stalled trains that so badly disrupt life on the End End and working to secure extra funding for garbage and recycling collection, as well as parks and green spaces.
Joaquin Martinez, 43, is best poised to pick up Gallegos’ baton. As Gallegos’ longtime staffer and director of community affairs, Martinez is more than qualified for the job. A political science graduate of University of Houston-Downtown, he spent his early career in youth programming and sharpened his community organizing skills at BakerRipley, one of Houston’s largest nonprofits. He’s also a board member of Arte Publico Press and the Tejano Center for Community Concerns.
Martinez has deep roots in District I. Growing up as one of 12 siblings in Eastwood, a historic East End neighborhood, he remembers, as a teen, craving the sort of hip coffee shops that now garner headlines such as the one in an upcycled shipping container near the Milby rail yard selling $10 THC-infused lattes few longtime residents can afford. Martinez is concerned about the skyrocketing property values, taxes and rent that are pricing out families he grew up with. His experience in Gallegos’ office has shown him repeatedly the importance of incorporating local input and empowering constituents to voice their concerns to developers, such as by securing Community Benefits Agreements. Martinez particularly wants to leverage federal and state dollars to help his renter-majority district have access to affordable, single-family homes and build generational wealth so they can stay in their neighborhood.
My interview with Joaquin Martinez is here. The Chron sings his praises at length, notes in passing that his solitary opponent is unserious and not worth considering, and strongly urges residents to vote for Martinez. All well and very good.
And then yesterday they gave us this, which, I dunno, maybe not?
Coming off a brutally hot summer in which Texas set 10 unofficial state records for electricity demand and issued nearly a dozen requests for energy conservation to keep the lights on, it would be reasonable to be a bit worried about the grid’s resiliency for the foreseeable future.
When ERCOT, the state’s grid manager, announced this month it would be seeking up to 3,000 megawatts of additional generation because there’s a 20 percent chance of a grid emergency this winter, it’s reasonable to be even more worried. That additional generation won’t come from any new power sources. ERCOT instead provided a list of mothballed natural gas and coal plants that could maybe, hopefully creak back to life to stave off disaster.
This is the new normal Texans are facing when it comes to power generation: living like we are always in a hurricane’s path, except instead of breathlessly tracking weather forecasts, we’re scanning ERCOT dashboards to see whether energy demand will outstrip supply. State legislators flailed during the legislative session over proposals to make the grid more reliable by building out many more gigawatts of generation. Fortunately, the worst ideas — such as an $18 billion plan backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to build a fleet of state-owned natural gas plants — didn’t pass.
A compromise did, however, make it into state law with an accompanying constitutional amendment that voters will consider this coming election. Proposition 7 would create the Texas Energy Fund to subsidize low-interest loans for the “construction, maintenance, modernization and operation” of new power plants.
This fund, administered by the Public Utilities Commission, would set aside $7.2 billion of taxpayer money for power generators to apply for 3 percent interest loans. These loans could fund up to 60 percent of the construction for new “dispatchable generation” of at least 100 megawatts.
That term — “dispatchable” — is jargon for any power source that can be turned on or off quickly, or, according to the new law, “can be controlled primarily by forces under human control.” In other words, not wind or solar — renewable power sources that are clean, save consumers money and currently account for roughly one-third of the state’s electricity. “Electric storage facilities,” such as utility-scale batteries — which saved Texas from power outages more than once this summer by pumping megawatts into the grid when energy demand nearly exceeded supply — are also not eligible for the loans. What the backers of the energy fund really want to attract is more natural gas and coal — energy sources that pollute our air and whose emissions contribute to climate change.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this new law is a prime example of the state Legislature putting its thumb on the scale to tilt the energy market against renewable power, which has grown in Texas at a rapid pace. While subsidies helped get renewables going, at this point, it’s simple economics: building solar fields and wind turbines is cheap and investing in new natural gas plants is expensive.
Yet it’s also true that the rapid shift to renewables has made the state’s main grid more precarious at times. No, renewables were not to blame for the Winter Storm Uri power failure, but we still need power sources that can fill crucial periods of the day when grid conditions are tight: around sunrise in the winter months and on hot summer evenings when the sun sets and winds haven’t yet revved up.
Let’s take a second and pause to marvel at Dan Patrick pushing an $18 billion plan to “build a fleet of state-owned natural gas plants”. What’s that word for when the state owns the means of production? I’m sure it’ll come to me. I don’t care for this proposal and don’t intend to vote for it. You can read the Chron’s argument and make up your own mind. If this is the best the Lege can do to address these issues, well, it’s another reason why we need a better Lege.