Texas voters will start heading to the polls next week and deciding who will help lead the state’s beleaguered power grid.
Clashing on the grid issue is incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, running for the office of governor, which appoints the Public Utility Commissioners that regulate the grid. Whether the grid has been fixed has served as a major point of contention among the candidates.
Meanwhile, few Texas voters had great confidence in the state’s ability to maintain its power grid and avoid energy blackouts when surveyed in August, according to a poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.
A survey conducted by the progressive research group Data for Progress in early September found that grid reliability was among the most pressing issues for Texas voters among other social and economic topics.
This past summer, as much of the state saw unrelenting, triple-digit heat, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas asked Texans to conserve energy after projecting an energy shortage, but the grid operator avoided systemwide outages.
Last year, Texas was devastated by its infamous February 2021 winter storm that knocked out power to millions of homes and ultimately resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Texans. Multiple factors have been blamed for the issues since the winter storm struck, including ERCOT and Abbott, Texas’ independent power grid, Texas’ renewable energy sector and its deregulated energy market.
Since O’Rourke launched his campaign, the grid has been a chief reason he says voters should choose him over Abbott. Meanwhile, Abbott has touted reforms and improvements to the state’s power grid operation.
As the November election for governor nears, here’s some of what the candidates have said about the Texas grid.
Beto blames Abbott
O’Rourke has characterized the blackouts as a failure in Abbott’s leadership, and at last month’s debate, said “we are not ready for this next winter.”
The Democratic candidate attributed the grid’s failure during the 2021 storm as “part of a pattern” of inaction in Abbott’s governorship which extends, O’Rourke said, to other issues such as gun violence.
O’Rourke also blamed the death of hundreds of Texans on the governor’s “incompetence and his inability to do what was necessary before February of 2021.”
“And the kicker is the grid is still not fixed,” he added.
To describe the increased electricity bills Texas consumers have been seeing following the storm, O’Rourke has coined the term “Abbott Tax.”
O’Rourke has said as governor, he would lower utility costs by recouping money “stolen” by greedy energy companies, sue companies that engaged in price gouging and appoint an independent market monitor for natural gas issues. He also said he would winterize the gas supply and connect Texas to the national grid.
In February, O’Rourke went on a 20-city, 12-day “Keeping the Lights On Tour” ahead of the anniversary of the infamous storm.
”This didn’t have to be our fate. It didn’t have to be our fortune,” O’Rourke said in Denton during the tour. “This is no act of God or Mother Nature. This is the failing of the person in the highest position of power in public trust.”
Abbott says grid is now more reliable
Abbott has pointed to numerous reforms to the Texas energy grid and increased reliability, and he characterized O’Rourke’s campaign as fear-mongering.
The week before O’Rourke’s tour stop in Denton in February, a winter weather event blanketed Dallas-Fort Worth with ice and snow. And the lights stayed on.
Abbott proclaimed the grid was more resilient and reliable than ever as that winter storm, a much weaker event than the previous year’s, did not prompt grid-level power outages. ”All Beto does is fear-monger on this issue, when in reality, the grid is more resilient and reliable than it’s ever been,” Abbott said at last month’s debate.
The Republican incumbent also argued that Texas has one of the lowest electricity prices in the country, far below the national average.
Abbott has promised Texans the “lights would stay on” and has said grid-related legislation last year provided the reforms the Texas grid needed, including plans to weatherize power plants and natural gas wells, bail out power companies and redesign the energy market.
During the debate, Abbott said O’Rourke’s “campaign hopes fell apart” because the governor’s reforms have worked. ”Ever since I signed those reform laws, no Texan has lost power because of the Texas power grid.”
Abbott also said he is planning to add more non-renewable sources of energy such as natural gas to bolster the grid.
Even during summer’s record-breaking temperatures, the grid “was able to keep up” because of the reforms, and the grid is “more resilient, more reliable than ever before,” Abbott said.