Something major happened in Texas, and like all things, it’s complicated. Millions of Texans went without power for days amidst a horrible winter storm due to the culmination of many different poor political decisions, deregulation, corporate greed, and oh yeah, climate change. To explain how on earth this could have happened, let’s start from the very beginning.
In 1999, Texan deregulated its energy grid to sidestep the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, avoiding mandatory weatherizing of their electric grid and related infrastructures. ERCOT, the Texas (private) grid operator, controls 90% of the electricity market, all in the spirit of greed-driven neoliberalism. Under ERCOT, hundred of electric companies (generators, distributors and retail) compete to provide service to consumers. In this cutthroat market, the first priority is maximizing shareholder profits, not actually helping working-class Texan afford their electricity bills or to keep them safe in weather emergencies. This deregulation has costed Texans $24 billion between 2002 and 2012. People living in regulated parts of the state (ex. the El Paso region), pay nearly $300 less per year for their electricity services.
Fast-forward to this past week: a huge cold snap has hit Texas, with subzero temperatures, snow and ice storms raging about. It is colder there than it has been in the past 30 years, and nobody was ready for it. This cold weather down south, is caused by warmer weather in the Arctic. Normally it is really cold up there, with a huge temperature difference. This created a lot of pressure between the arctic circle and the rest of the world, resulting in a powerful jet stream on a straight path surrounding the Arctic circle, and keeping the cold air up there. But when the Arctic is warmer and there is not much of temperature difference between the Arctic circle and the rest of the world, that jet stream gets weaker and more wiggly in shape, allowing the cold air to escape to other parts of the world (a.k.a down into Texas and other places we would not normally see such cold winters.
Since Texas’ energy infrastructures were not adequately winterized, power plant instruments, generating equipment, and pipelines froze, dramatically reducing capacity to deliver electricity to customers. At the same time capacity dropped, demand for energy surged as people tried to adequately heat their homes. The price for electricity spiked from $22/kWhr to $10 000/kWhr simply because people needed it to just stay alive (oh, capitalism…strikes once again).
In response, ERCOT implemented blackouts. At the peak of these blackouts, 4.4 million Texans were without power. On Wednesday last week, 3.3 million people were without power and heat for several days, 12 million did not have access to drinkable water (because of frozen pipes or boil water advisories, but many of those did not even have power to boil their water any way. These rolling blackouts continue to affect the poorest zip codes while the rich enjoy light and heat and downtown is lit up like the Fourth of July. This is an example of a class war resulting directly from energy companies’ profiteering. All of this could have bene avoided, if the power grids has just been publicly regulated, and thus winterized and prepared for this cold weather. Hindsight is 20/20. Now we can see that ERCOT’s greed has deadly consequences: by refusing to integrate with the federal system, Texas can’t rely on neighboring regional grids for resilience and support.
This “perfect storm” is just an example of what happens when the state is governed by those who don’t believe in government in the first place. The GOP has had absolute control of every state-wide Texan office in the past 20 years. The decision to deregulate ERCOT and ensure it’s not connected to the national grid; to fail to weatherize the coal, gas, nuclear, wind or solar power grids, transmission lines; the inability to ensure there is excess capacity for emergencies like these, are all decisions they made in favor of profits over the needs of the people. Now they’re pointing the finger at Rep AOC, the Green New Deal, the failing of renewable infrastructures, when in reality it was all their fault. By blaming the power shut offs on frozen wind turbines and solar panels, they are using a common political tactic known as “the shock doctrine” to stir up fear public about the Green New Deal and push their own agendas for more oil, gas, and coal subsidies and permits. The GOP is blaming everyone and everything but themselves, which does not inspire any confidence that they are going to be able to learn from this devastating experience.
What is the motive for this? Just ask our good ol’ friend capitalism. It’s to keep the profits flowing of course. While Texans were freezing to death, wholesale natural gas prices skyrocketed to hundreds of times their usual amount. Private energy markets promise wild profits for producers, and re-election for the politicians who enable them. That matters more to them than light and heat for working-class Americans. Roland Burns, the CFO of a drilling company operating in Texas and Louisiana, told investors that the surge in natural gas prices amid powerful winter storms was giving the company a major financial boost: “Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot.” Seems a little ironic that those responsible for climate change are the ones profiting off its devastating effects on the people, oh no wait, that actually makes perfect sense! This is what capitalism is all about.
As if we didn’t already know that the GOP is the scum of the earth, news emerges that Texas Governor, Ted Cruz flies off to Cancun to escape the cold weather. Honestly, this is just every wealthy person’s response will be to climate catastrophe, which is why we can’t count on people like this to be in power and fight for real change for the benefit of the people. They’re not going to make any changes that may lead to one less dollar in their pockets, because they can just fly off to better weather when the going gets tough, and no one can stop them.
So what is the solution to all this and how can we do better for the future which is even more uncertain? I’ll give you a hint it’s called ~socialism~ ahhhhhh
- Implementing a federally owned supergrid that allows energy to be imported from regions of the country that have an excess of solar, wind and other types of energy at the time of need.
- Having publicly owned, democratically controlled utilities that are directly accountable to the people they serve, and invest in grid maintenance and high staffing levels.
- See an end to utility shut offs for non-payment and programs to prioritize power restoration to vulnerable populations.
- See an end to environmental racism and racist power cutoffs that are designed to preserve power in wealthier, whiter areas.
- Transition to 100% clean and renewable, affordable energy for all, publicly owned and built with good unionized jobs.
- Improve grid resilience through investments in maintenance, upgrades, microgrids, and distributed energy resources, battery storage, tree trimming, and grid redundancy equipment like relay protection systems.