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    Gov. Greg Abbott scrambles to reassure Texans as power grid falters in first summer heat wave


    May 16, 2022 - Jeremy Wallace, Houston Chronicle

     

      May 14—With temperatures soaring statewide, Gov. Greg Abbott is scrambling to reassure Texans he's closely monitoring the state's shaky electric grid as other GOP officials vow to get back to work fixing a system many, including Abbott, declared they had repaired after deadly outages during last year's winter storms.

      An hour after high-level meetings with Abbott, the state's electricity monitor warned the public that six power plants had failed, forcing the state to call on Texans to reduce air conditioning usage and watch their energy consumption through the weekend. Electric Reliability Council of Texas did not disclose which units had gone offline or when they'd be back up.

      ERCOT data showed demand for power in Texas was projected to be within 2,000 megawatts of the total supply by mid-afternoon on Saturday, triggering the conservation alert. Typically the state has a much bigger cushion. When operating reserves drop below 1,750 megawatts for more than 30 minutes, ERCOT can interrupt power for large industrial customers and can call for rotating blackouts if reserves drop to 1,000 megawatts. A megawatt is about enough electricity to power 200 homes on a hot day.

      Peak demand on the grid was expected between 5 and 6 p.m on Saturday.

      Abbott, who said last June that lawmakers did "everything that needed to be done" for the grid, released a photo of himself on Friday, meeting with officials from ERCOT and the Public Utilities Commission in his office just over an hour before the conservation warning was sent out.

      "We continue to work closely to ensure Texas' power grid remains reliable & meets the needs of Texans," Abbott said.

      Late Friday night, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican, was far more forceful assuring the public he's already pushing for more improvements to the state's grid. He said the reforms they passed last year were a first step "but work remains to be done."

      "This weekend's energy conservation warning is another sign that we must have greater reliability," he said.

      It all comes as the stability of the power grid has become a major point of contention in Abbott's reelection campaign.

      Democrat Beto O'Rourke has been blistering at rallies, reminding voters that more than 700 Texans died, by some estimates, when the grid failed in 2021 during the winter storms. Lawmakers had been repeatedly warned that the power grid needed reforms, but those warnings had largely been unheeded until millions of Texans were left without power during the record freezing temperatures last winter.

      O'Rourke has been campaigning on forcing more weatherization requirements on energy providers and connecting the Texas grid to the national grid to ensure the state can tap into national emergency supplies when needed, something Republicans who control the Legislature have declined to do.

      On Friday, he blasted Abbott for waiting until after 5 p.m. on Friday to make ERCOT put out their conservation alert, even though he had been meeting with them well before that.

      "He doesn't want Texans to know that he STILL can't keep the power running in the energy capital of the world," O'Rourke said on Friday after the ERCOT alert went out.

      Abbott's campaign has repeatedly criticized O'Rourke for what they called his "Praying The Lights Go Out tour."

      "While Beto is traversing the state rooting for the pain and suffering of fellow Texans, Gov. Abbott has been working to strengthen the grid with the PUC, ERCOT, and the Legislature to ensure Texas remains a national leader in energy," Abbott's spokeswoman Renae Eze said earlier this year.

      Abbott did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment.

      It was just about one year ago that Abbott trumpeted a series of reforms he signed into law to fix the grid.

      "We promised not to leave session until we fixed these problems, and I am proud to say that we kept that promise," Abbott said in June 2021. "These laws will improve the reliability of the electric grid and help ensure these problems never happen again."

      And in February, pressed by the Hearst Newspapers, Abbott assured that the bevy of legislation he signed into law had greatly changed the state's power reliability.

      "The power grid is more resilient, more stable, and stronger than it has ever been in the history of our state," Abbott said.

      Those comments came just after a cold snap had produced high demand, yet Abbott said the state had enough energy in reserve to power another nearly 2 million homes if needed.

      But Democrats in the Texas Legislature have been warning for months that Republican lawmakers killed legislation that would have done more to protect the grid.

      "We had every chance to fix the grid and Republicans failed to act on our most vital priorities," said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.

      State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said Republicans in the Legislature blocked bills that would have required more backup power generation.

      "How's that statutory requirement for more backup power generation working out? Oh, that's right. We didn't pass that bill," Wu said on social media.

      jeremy.wallace@chron.com

      ___

      (c)2022 the Houston Chronicle

      Visit the Houston Chronicle at www.chron.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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