Texas electric ratepayers pay more than they should, and will be paying even more, because Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is paying less attention to the state’s electric grid that partially froze up in February, says Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat hoping to replace Abbott.
The governor has told Texans that the freeze-out that caused significant power outages around the state, left many in the dark and cold, killed some 700 people, and almost failed completely, won’t happen again in 2022.
“I’m very confident about the grid,” Abbott said on Austin’s Fox 7 Nov. 26. "I can guarantee the lights will stay on."
Some power experts, and Texans, worry about the preparation for a solid grid which depends a lot on natural gas. Abbott says he’s not.
"I have talked to some of the natural gas pipeline transmitters, and they've also have been doing winterization that most people don’t know about,” Abbott said in November. “Most importantly is the approach ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) has taken this year, unlike last year.
“Last year they were reactive and waited until a crisis mode before they summoned more power, more energy,” Abbott said. “Now the way ERCOT works, is they work days in advance in summoning that power to make sure they will have enough power to keep the lights on."
In mid-December, O’Rourke charged that the governor is handing to ratepayers the bills for repairs trying to make up for what didn’t work during the freeze.
“Many of you are already seeing rising utility bills. In fact, the average Texas household by the end of this winter will see an increase in their utility bills of between $20-50 per month going forward,” O’Rourke said in a campaign video released Dec. 17.
“This is ‘the Abbott Tax,’ because Greg Abbott, the Governor of Texas, failed to prepare our electricity grid and has failed to do anything meaningful after the failure of that grid to make sure that we don't have other problems going forward.
“The tens of billions of dollars that it costs to fix it is being paid for by the ratepayer. By you and by me and by our fellow Texans, not the people who actually caused it in the first place,” O’Rourke charged. “That's why we call it ‘the Abbott Tax.’
“To add insult to injury, yesterday Abbott's appointees at the Public Utility Commission decided that they would add another $15-20 on top of the addition that you are already paying, adding to the Abbott Tax that every single Texas ratepayer will be paying going forward, not just for months but for years into the future,” O’Rourke continued.
“And if that wasn't bad enough, while the Public Utility Commission was meeting, he was taking meetings with the same energy executives who helped to cause the problem with Greg Abbott in the first place.
“These are the energy executives who have donated more than $4.6 million to his reelection campaign, helping to explain why he's done nothing to protect the grid going forward,” O’Rourke said. “He's more interested in looking out for his campaign contributors than he is in protecting all of us in the state of Texas.
“So it's a reminder to us every time we pay that electricity or that gas bill that we're also paying the Abbott Tax. That is the cost and the consequence of the failure of the man in the highest position of public trust in the state, and it is also a reminder that it is within our power to change this,” O’Rourke said.
“We can change the person in charge,” O’Rourke said, “so that we have a governor who's looking out for all of us and is making sure we keep the lights on, the heat running, and the water flowing.”
O’Rourke joins other critics in pointing out that Texas, the only state that runs its own power regulation to avoid federal control, should have a bigger power-sharing interconnection with the eastern and western power grids to share in a big reliability backup.
Texas’ only association with those multistate grids is in El Paso, the northern Panhandle, and in far East Texas, O’Rourke points out.
O’Rourke said in addition to providing a reliable backup to avoid power shortages in Texas, it would also enable economic opportunities during times of shortages elsewhere for Texas to sell excess power to other states.