For four days now, millions of Texans have been without power and water, and they’re reaching their boiling point. Many are voicing their anger on social media and wondering how Gov. Abbott could allow another winter storm blunder to happen.
Federal government officials don’t necessarily rank high in many Texans’ minds, especially when they’re doing horrible jobs. State officials, on the other hand, rank fairly high. A June 2015 Texas Public Policy poll found Texans “overwhelmingly trust the Texas state government to do a better job than the federal government.”
That is, until Gov. Abbott and other state officials failed to keep the power on for more than four million Texans.
On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott quickly announced an investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a not-for-profit board that runs 90 percent of the state’s electric grid for private, for-profit entities. Gov. Abbott claimed it was unacceptable that four million Texans were without power.
Gov. Abbott has blamed everyone from ERCOT, to windmills and the Green New Deal for this failure. Yet ECROT’s blunders have been happening on his watch for a long time. They date back to 2011 when the last extreme winter storm hit, knocking out the power for the same damn reason: greed and incompetence.
As a colleague of mine from the University of North Texas pointed out in a recent Facebook post, Gov. Abbott could have fixed the power grid’s weakness in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. But instead, as the Texas Tribune reported Wednesday, he left it up to the power companies to make the upgrades. And, of course, they opted out of doing so to keep their profits in check; after all, what else do state officials expect to happen when our power is privatized?
Gov. Abbott has certainly never insisted they prioritize our safety with regulation. When this winter storm Uri hit and knocked out the power, People began duct-taping blankets to their windows to keep warm, risking carbon monoxide poisoning by warming up in their cars, and struggling to boil water without power. Now, they’re likely reflecting on whether they want a new governor.
Thankfully, not everyone in Texas puts profit or their own comfort over people’s lives. Church leaders opened their holy spaces as warming stations. They sheltered residents who weren’t experiencing rotating outages, as ERCOT claimed would happen, but complete blackout since early Monday morning. Emergency responders have been adhering to their call of duty. They’ve answered a high volume of calls and helped millions of Texans.
“I sure hope that everyone realizes, as I do, how it has also been tremendously difficult for all of our fire and police department staff that have been working around the clock,” McKinney Mayor George Fuller wrote in a recent Facebook post. “As fast as they address one frozen pipe flooding crisis, they have two more calls just like it come in. As they complete transferring one group of vulnerable, infirmed seniors off to a warming station, there are dozens more needs called in. Our community should also know, as these incredible men and women of our fire and police departments come off double shifts, they are emailing or texting me asking how they can help volunteer for the critical needs hotline we set up.
“If you see a fireman/woman or police officer, please stop and thank them. Let them know we know the incredible burden that has been placed on them and how they have risen to meet those challenges in ways far greater than what one would think to be humanly possible.”
Several local officials have gone above and beyond what the governor or Sen. Ted Cruz has done.
Enter Mayor Fuller.
During the winter storm, Mayor Fuller used Facebook to gauge his community’s needs, and update them with important information. He opened up his event space as a warming space for people until the power went out. He helped to get elderly folks in caring facilities to warming centers. Crosspoint Church became their primary location for seniors who needed to get warm. Additionally, McKinney Boyd High School and Hall Library became warming centers for certain parts of town. Then he started delivering hot water for formula to families in need.
He wrote in a Tuesday Facebook post, “If anyone has the same need or knows of someone who has the same need, I am setting up a separate email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) that I can use to get information on those types of specific needs.” On Facebook Live, he gave updates using the hashtags #mckinneystrong and #strongercommunity to rally volunteers to help their fellow Texans.
He also did his best to alleviate conspiracy when people thought the water district was going offline and started hoarding water.
He was quick to brag on a few people who helped to set up a critical need hotline for residents. “I do not know if they had any idea of the amount of time and work that would ensure, but they haven’t stopped since the moment the first needs came in,” he wrote in a recent Facebook post. “Additionally, they continue to do the work with only a spirit of gratefulness to be able to help others in the community.”
During this winter storm, that humanity is sorely needed. It’s lacking at the state level, on the ERCOT board, and in our power company officials, who plan to charge residents outrageous rates for electricity — in a time when many are struggling financially due to COVID. The screw up is courtesy of ERCOT and state officials. But it’ll be residents, already charged far too much for electricity in Texas, who will pay for it.