Now you hear it everywhere in this state. People are talking and understanding what our leaders’ laissez faire disregard for oversight has done to us. Those beloved words “free market” have left us cold, without water, in the dark. The energy capital of America is a laughingstock, and deservedly so.
Who knew that our own leaders could destroy us?
The enemy is within. It’s not California values. It’s not the federal government. It sure isn’t windmills.
For a decade, I’ve been knocking my head against the wall, pleading, yes, begging state lawmakers in The Watchdog column to take a hard look at the state’s deregulated electricity marketplace and fix its flaws. I call it Version 2.0.
They mostly ignored this, just like they ignored warnings after the 2011 Super Bowl ice storm. Nothing to see here, say energy industry lobbyists who hold sway.
Year after year, state lawmakers listened to the Public Utility Commission boast that the system is fabulous, best in the country, unregulated free market, blah, blah, blah.
But I listened to your complaints about a system that is purposely confusing to consumers and filled with unpunished marketing deceptions designed to get you to overpay for electricity.
Hundreds of Texans joined me in this quest that fails every other year in the Legislature. We sent emails and filed complaints. But former Gov. Rick Perry and Gov. Greg Abbott never cared. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick turns away.
Who do we blame for this weather catastrophe? That’s easy. The ones who blame the others.
Blame former 14-year-long Gov. Rick Perry, who the other day said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”
Perry, with his stream of pro-industry appointees to the Public Utility Commission, was ringleader of the gang that fights for a hands-off attitude.
Blame Abbott, forever to be known as the governor who couldn’t keep the lights on. Like so many areas where we’re behind in our state, he never made it a priority to update our busted electricity system, from the grid all the way to the consumer end users.
The Texas economic miracle that Abbott touts has little to do with his leadership. It has to do with the good fortune that we live on land with trillions of dollars’ worth of precious liquid gold, oil and gas resources buried beneath.
Blame, of course, ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, because if you’re going to pay your chief executive Bill Magness an annual compensation of $883,000 to run the state grid, he better be the Jackie Robinson of the electricity world. And if you believe his latest story about how we were “seconds” from a full-scale blackout, I have a few days of an unused Ted Cruz vacation package I’m happy to sell you. He waited until the fourth day to bring it up.
Blame the people who work for Magness, of which 20 earned more than $200,000 a year with seven getting above $300,000, two earning over $400,000 and one making $500,000, according to non-profit ERCOT’s 2018 federal tax filing. If you make that much to keep the lights on and fail, how can you sleep at night?
Blame the Texas Railroad Commission, a leading member of this circus, which regulates oil and gas in Texas. In recent days, it failed to answer important questions about its responsibilities to force natural gas suppliers to weatherize.
Blame ONCOR for its weak delivery of crucial information to the public. ONCOR’s poor storm communication skills are nothing new.
And throw shade at the Texas Legislature, which in recent years has done next to nothing on electricity reform. Aside from a few who care — State Senator Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and State Reps. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, and Gene Hu, D-Houston, come to mind — it’s been dead quiet. Don’t count on state lawmakers to admit culpability. And don’t trust their coming investigations to be unbiased.
It took a killer storm, but finally, the charade is over. You hear it everywhere in this state now.
“This incompetence is unforgiveable,” Kyle Keifer tells me.
Steve Rossan says, “Funny to see Gov. Abbott and the legislature suddenly take an interest in energy oversight. Are they now going to try and look like heroes by swooping in?”
Maxwell Kashiwa asks, “Why are the governor and others enticing businesses to move here if we don’t have resources to support more people?”
Kendra Liester says, “No one takes responsibility. They just pass the blame on down the line.”
Several years ago, rather than create a protest petition, I took a big-sized “P” I bought at a crafts store and decorated it with the names of hundreds of consumers who agreed with me. I sent the P to the UC.
My reporting has focused on the consumer end of this, your monthly bill, not the lone star grid. But in my research I discovered a definite ethos, a see-no-evil culture when it came to the way UC commissioners and staffers approach their jobs.
He cooked up this cockamamie scheme about me: “Given his proclivity for grandstanding,” Barlow wrote his bosses, “it wouldn’t surprise me if he were to interrupt an open meeting, but I’ll work to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’d hate for his prank-style antics to culminate in footage of him being dragged from our hearing room by a state trooper.” I discovered his fantasy through an open records request.
My most recent report on the UC revealed how commissioners, who are appointed by Abbott, abolished its enforcement division. What’s the purpose of being a regulator if you don’t have an enforcement division? What message does that send?
As for ERCOT, The Watchdog is hereby stripping the Texas grid operator of its “R’ which is for reliability.
What can we do with that “R”? Well, if we take the word outage and add that ‘R,’ we’ve got outrage.
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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 winner of the top prize for column writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. The contest judge called his winning entries “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”
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