Beto O’Rourke, other Texas Democrats say they can fix the grid. Here’s what experts think

Gov. Greg Abbott has said the lights will stay on, but his November opponent and voters aren’t so sure.

AUSTIN — Beto O’Rourke and Mike Collier want to talk about Texas’ power grid.

Since the Democrats launched their campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor last year, the grid has been a chief reason they say voters should choose them over incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Abbott has said that 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. Abbott also promised Texans that the “lights would stay on.”


Despite his assurances, voters remain concerned with the stability of the grid. Recent polling from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that only 15% of Texans have full confidence in the stability of Texas’ power grid.

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“The fact that people are concerned about a grid is a sign that people are still traumatized by what happened a year and a half ago, and now they’re traumatized by the risk that something might happen again,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Collier has made “fix the damn grid” his campaign slogan. And both he and O’Rourke say that with them in charge, Texans won’t have to worry about freezing in their homes when temperatures dip below 32 degrees or about rolling blackouts when the state has a heat wave.


But would any of the plans the Democrats have to fix the grid work?

The News asked O’Rourke and Collier’s campaigns for their proposals and contacted several energy experts to evaluate them.

Winterizing the grid

Overall, O’Rourke and Collier get passing grades for surface-level proposals, which include requiring power plants be hardened for extreme weather and increasing power generation.


“All of these are sound measures, although details matter and there aren’t many details here,” said Alison Silverstein, an energy consultant who formerly worked with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Public Utility Commission.

She said winterizing the grid is “totally appropriate,” but might not go far enough.

“Winterization isn’t the only weatherization issue — transmission lines and power plants are also vulnerable to lower efficiency and breakage in extremely hot weather, so we need to prepare for increasingly hotter and longer heat waves as well as for occasional very cold weather events,” Silverstein said.

Connecting with the national grid

Both Collier and O’Rourke call for Texas to connect with the national grid, to which it remains mostly cut off. FERC officials noted this as one of the reasons Texas experienced major power outages during the winter storm and why neighboring states that saw limited outages were able to recover much more quickly, according to a November 2021 report.

“Connecting to the national grid will allow Texas to draw down power from other states during emergencies,” a statement from O’Rourke’s campaign said. “During normal times, when we have a surplus, it’ll also allow us to bring in billions of dollars by exporting excess power generation.”

Webber said connecting with the national grid is feasible and would lower energy costs while making the Electric Reliability Council of Texas grid more resilient.

Tying into the national grid has become somewhat of a partisan issue. Texas formed an independent grid to avoid federal regulation. Republicans continue to remain wary of Washington meddling with what remains of Texas’ energy-only market, while Democrats are less fearful.


“It has become a political identity test where Democrats want to connect the grid and Republicans don’t,” Webber said. “It’s weird. I can’t explain that.”

FERC Chairman Richard Glick has said he would welcome Texas connecting with the national grid and would allow it without placing the ERCOT grid under the oversight of the Department of Energy.

Collier said his plan would build tie-ins to surrounding grids while seeking waivers from federal regulation.


But Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, said calling for Texas to interconnect with the grid relies on “a false premise.”

“Who would want to connect with us?” Hirs said. “The ERCOT grid’s in miserable shape and the grids next to us also suffer from a lack of investment.”

Energy expansion and efficiency

As Texas has repeatedly broken energy demand records this summer, politicians on both sides of the aisle can agree that Texas needs more power generation. But they differ widely on whether the state should be investing in more reliable natural gas plants or more environmentally friendly renewable energy.


O’Rourke called for further investment into renewable energy, while Collier wants an increase in energy production “across the board,” according to a statement from his campaign manager.

“These are mom and apple pie policies. Texas is already very energy independent, but we particularly need more energy storage and transmission to stabilize electricity deliverability and prices,” as well as resiliency, Silverstein said.

Both Collier and O’Rourke said they would work to increase the amount of large-scale battery storage on the grid.


Energy experts view the emerging technology as a solution to the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy. Especially with wind, the hope is that industrial scale batteries could store energy that could be supplied to the grid when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

O’Rourke’s campaign also said it would create a program to make Texans’ homes and businesses more energy efficient by updating insulation and encouraging the purchase of energy efficient appliances.

Silverstein said that is “critical” to hardening Texas’ electric grid. She said any programs should have a strong push toward helping lower-income families.

“The more we can improve low-income housing and energy usage, the more we’ll save as a state economy by having healthier, safer, more comfortable residents with more discretionary income,” she said.


Independent monitor

O’Rourke also called for an independent monitor for Texas’ natural gas market, similar to the one ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission have for the electric grid. Silverstein said that would be welcome, but questioned its usefulness given the lax attitude the Railroad Commission has toward regulating Texas’ massive fossil fuel sector.

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