DALLAS — After a summer of higher home energy bills that followed last year's deadly winter power outages, most Texans favor investments to make the state's electricity grid more reliable, says a recent report from a polling company.
The survey, conducted by progressive research group Data for Progress in early September, found that immigration and grid reliability are among the most pressing issues for Texas voters among other social and economic topics.
Still reeling from the effects of Winter Storm Uri, a majority of voters polled across the political spectrum said state leaders did not adequately protect them from higher prices from the storm, the survey report said.
In the poll of around 700 likely voters, nearly seven in 10 Texans said their home energy bills are also now higher than they were a year ago. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish, using text and web page responses.
"These higher home energy bills are detracting from Texas voters' quality of life," Danielle Deiseroth, lead climate strategist at Data for Progress, wrote in the report, adding that heftier energy bills have contributed to behavioral change.
Around 60% of respondents reported they have cut back on recreational activities, and at home, nearly half of respondents said they now use less air conditioning and reduce the amount of lights turned on. Recreational activities in the survey included dining out, traveling or going to the movies.
Respondents also reported cutting back on necessities, such as food and prescriptions, which came in at 30%, and changing political parties in midterm elections at 19%.
Survey respondents were split on who to fault for higher home energy prices, with some assigning blame to President Joe Biden, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or other electricity companies. After reminding respondents that the Texas electric grid is not subject to federal regulation, more pivoted to blame Abbott and ERCOT, which manages the Texas grid, rather than Biden.
However, a majority agreed that state leaders are failing to serve them when it comes to preparing for climate change and other extreme weather events. Nearly 90% of Democrats surveyed said their state leaders are not doing enough.
"Winter Storm Uri left an indelible mark on Texans' minds, as they now navigate their lives without confidence that the grid will provide reliable service," Deiseroth wrote.
The February 2021 freeze led to blackouts across the state, and more than 200 Texans died as a result of the extreme cold and power outages.
"With grid reliability issues and high energy prices significantly impacting their lives, Texas voters want their leaders to prioritize addressing the power grid," the strategist wrote.
Brent Bennett, policy director with Texas Public Policy Foundation's energy institute, Life:Powered, said the state's grid was unprepared for the storm because of a lack of resources. He said the market at the time "was signaling investment for more wind and solar." TPPF is a nonprofit conservative think tank based in Austin.
"It's not their fault — it's not that the generators performed poorly or something," Bennett said of the grid's capacity during the winter storm. "It's just the resources were not there."
When it comes to ways to improve grid reliability, survey respondents support a variety of investments that include upgrading electric transmission lines, increasing energy efficiency and increasing use of new energy technologies.
In addition, about 64% of respondents said they would support paying consumers during periods of high energy demand to incentivize them to reduce their energy use.
In order to keep electricity more affordable and reliable, almost two-thirds of respondents also said they supported stronger regulations on energy companies. In Texas, the Public Utilities Commission is responsible for regulating the state's electricity programs including ERCOT.