Greg Abbott has a lot on his plate. The governor of Texas is once again facing an energy crisis as a winter cold snap approaches, leading many to fear a replay of the 2021 freeze that killed at least 246 people (and possibly as many as 700) and left 4.5 million people without power in the state’s coldest temperatures in years. Abbott promised in November that the lights and heat would stay on this winter — but now, as temperatures drop, he says that’s no longer a guarantee.
The Texas Tribune reported on Monday that Abbott now maintains “no one can guarantee there won’t be” power outages in the state, as ice on power lines, tree falls, and other natural events aren’t something the state can prevent. That’s true, to a certain extent. But what the state can control are the power companies whose predatory practices caused the disastrous 2021 freeze from making the same mistakes again. Has Abbott done that? Not particularly.
After the 2021 storm, the Tribune reports, lawmakers forced power generation companies to winterize their equipment in order to prevent some of the cold-induced outages that wracked the state. But they didn’t require natural gas companies to do the same, despite the fact that fuel supply issues — which most of the power generation companies burn to, you know, generate power — also caused outages. The Tribune reports that on a private Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) call before Abbott’s news conference on Tuesday, natural gas suppliers were already warning power companies that some of their expected fuel might not arrive this week during the freeze. In fact, supply issues are almost guaranteed. In a cold snap earlier this year, natural gas production dropped by 20 percent, according to the Tribune.
Abbott swears that Texas can “still maintain power grid integrity even if there is a loss of some level of production of natural gas,” and ERCOT swears they’ve “planned and prepared” for a drop in gas production. But all of this raises the larger question: Why were the gas companies not also forced to winterize their equipment?
The most charitable interpretation of the situation is that Abbott and the lawmakers under him made some routine improvements to Texas’s energy infrastructure after negligent and profit-maximizing policies killed hundreds of people last winter. If Texas weathers this storm without mass death, they’ll probably call it a win. But the ice is not going to go away. It will be back every year, and half-measures that just try to mitigate the fallout, rather than changing the state’s infrastructure to something sustainable, won’t last for long in the new future Texas and the rest of the world will have to confront.