As It Happens·Q&A

'This has been a statewide debacle': Texas lawmaker calls for action after prolonged blackout

Ron Reynolds, a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, is one of the people promising to get to the bottom of the state's current energy crisis.

A weekend storm left millions without power; thousands are still in the dark

Rufina Moya helps collect firewood to burn for warmth from wood heap opened to the public Wednesday in Dallas. (L.M. Otero/The Associated Press)

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Texans are demanding answers and action after a failure in the power grid left much of the state in the dark. Millions of residents are under boil water advisories that many can't obey thanks to continued power outages.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Thursday expressed the frustration many are feeling with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission that oversees it. Johnson is calling for answers from state legislators.

Ron Reynolds, a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, is one of the people promising to get to the bottom of the state's current energy crisis. He told As It Happens host Carol Off that partisan politics need to be put aside and people need to come before profits.

Here is part of their conversation. 

How are things in Missouri City where you are?

Things have not been well all over the entire state of Texas.

Many of my constituents, the majority, had at some point lost power — many, including myself, for days. And now people are suffering the impact of busted pipes due to the weather conditions. So this has been a statewide debacle that has impacted millions of Texans. And unfortunately, we've had the loss of lives as well.

What we're hearing from the Dallas mayor, Eric Johnson, and from others, is that it seems that this goes beyond just some some problems with the grid. There are a lot of structural issues that he is asking, and others are asking, for you [and other] legislators to address. What answers do you have for them?

Eric Johnson, Mayor Johnson, is a former colleague of mine in the legislature. And he is correct. I agree wholeheartedly. There needs to be accountability. There needs to be transparency. The state of Texas needs to own up to this great, colossal, really travesty, for our citizens.

ERCOT ... did not properly winterize the state's various generation systems because, unfortunately, they didn't want to make the capital investment. They didn't want to spend the money. So there needs to be some answers to those questions. I have the pleasure of sitting on the House energy resources committee and I intend to ask those hard questions.

Texans wait in line to fill their propane tanks Wednesday in Houston. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

ERCOT  is the somewhat ironically named Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

They should amend the name to take out the "reliability" because it's anything but reliable.

In Texas [you are] financially structured ... [so] that people get very cheap electricity in your state. Texans enjoy that. And ... there's no financial incentive to work on that infrastructure that obviously collapsed under this cold. The incentive is to bring cheap energy to market. So is this the price you pay for that cheap energy, the ultimate price?

Yeah, it is partly. But also, Texas has been irresponsible when it comes to studying and adjusting to the impact of climate change.

We have been climate deniers as a state. We have not looked at science. We have not observed on the House environmental regulation committee for the last 10 years. We have not been able to discuss the impact of climate change in terms of the way that it has impacted droughts and flooding and temperature change.

Texas really has been beholden to industry, and we have not done what's best for our citizens. So Texas has to have a serious conversation, and I think the citizens are going to demand it.

This could have been avoided. But again, it goes back to just profits. And it goes back to Texas being beholden to industry.- Ron Reynolds, Texas House of Representatives 

How are you going to address that in the short term? Because this may not be an isolated event for winters in Texas.

Back in 2011, we did a deep dive and there were recommendations that were made to the Public Utility Commission to ERCOT. Those recommendations were not adhered to.

With the investments in infrastructure, winterizations of the generation of our grids and our power generation, this could have been avoided. But again, it goes back to just profits. And it goes back to Texas being beholden to industry.

Texas is the energy capital of the world. And yes, it does help our economy. But we cannot do what's best for our economy to the detriment of our public health and safety.

We have to be statesmen and we're calling upon our governor. He has made this an emergency item ... which means that we will take this up immediately in the legislature. And now we have to do just more than rhetoric. We have to be able to implement these recommendations. That's what we need.

A sign warns customers of a Shell gas station shut down by lack of electric power in Pflugerville, Texas. (USA Today Network/Reuters)

People want the immediate issues dealt with. What are they going to find when they get their power back on and when they start getting the bill for what this is going to cost?

We have to do our part as a state to bear the responsibility, even if it means using our state's rainy day fund. We have to do that to help our citizens. We cannot pass the buck on them when they did not put themselves in this predicament.

We know that [many] people have been killed in this deep freeze in your state. So what what can you say to them, to their families?

My heart is broken. I empathize with them. These are people who are dealing with a record number of deaths and sickness from COVID-19. So this is insult on top of insult. 

And I say to them is enough is enough. We, as a state, have to do better and there has to be accountability. We will be better prepared. That doesn't maybe bring them solace, but at least, hopefully, it will restore some confidence that has been eroded in our elected officials.


Written by Sonya Varma. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

 

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