Texans are preparing for disaster because their leaders won’t

With another cold spell threatening to push Texas’s power grid to the brink again, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is quickly backing off his promises to protect Texans.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 27: Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during the Houston Region Business Co...
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Last year, a winter storm caught Texas by surprise. Temperatures dropped below freezing and the state’s electric grid failed, leaving millions of Texans without power for days — most trapped in their homes without the supplies needed to wait out the storm. Nearly 250 people lost their lives as a result of the cold, and Texas leadership vowed that they would never let this happen again.

Now, with another winter cold front threatening Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is backing down from those promises. “No one can guarantee there won’t be [power outages],” Abbott told residents of his state Tuesday as he warned of “treacherous” driving conditions, ice on power lines, and additional damage that may once again leave Texans trapped by the winter conditions.

It’s not just Abbott warning to be ready for the worst, either. Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the organization that operates the vast majority of Texas’s electric grid, said that it is expecting to see record levels of demand for power and could push its capabilities to the brink. Thus far, ERCOT is not issuing any warnings for potential power outages or calling for residents to ration their electricity — but residents who survived last year’s harrowing blackouts and shutdowns are understandably worried that the grid will once again fail and they will be left stranded without power.

The result for many residents has been panic. People across Texas are starting to stock up on essentials. Grocery stores across the state are reporting empty shelves as citizens have tried to stock their cupboards to make sure they have enough food to ride out the storm. Others have been waiting in long lines to fill up their gas tanks and canisters to run generators. “Just casually stocking up on filtered water, a solar-powered charging station, and other survivalist supplies because Texas is supposed to get cold again this week,” tweeted Charlie Scudder of The Dallas Morning News.

Another Twitter user lamented that the storm was coming right as rent and other major expenses came due. “Really bad timing for us to have like $20 to get us groceries for the next week because since Texas is gonna freeze tomorrow, everyone is stocking up in case we all lose power for a fucking week again,” they wrote. There are even lines at Red Box locations as people stock up on entertainment, one person pointed out.

Experts have been warning that Texas’s electric grid still lacks the resistance needed to survive a winter storm — in part the result of the state choosing to operate its own grid instead of participating in larger, federally operated ones that are able to divert power to areas in need and have been weatherized to ensure extreme conditions don’t render them useless.

Last year, after the cold knocked out power for millions of people, Abbott and other Republicans blamed renewable energy for the failures — despite the fact that wind accounts for just 10% of the state’s energy production, while natural gas and coal account for 72% and provide electricity to nearly every residence in the state. They further tried to blame the “liberal agenda” in a state that has been under complete Republican control since 2003 and has had a Republican governor and state Senate majority for a decade.

Two months ago, Peter Lake — the chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas — said, “The lights are going to stay on this winter.” Abbott echoed those sentiments, stating, “I can guarantee the lights will stay on.” But next to nothing, other than hoping for better weather, has been done to actually make that happen, despite plenty of available options. Just the threat of a cold spell was enough to make Abbott back off his promise that lights will stay on through the winter, so how confident is Texas leadership in their choices, really?

Republicans like to blame government and overregulation when government-run systems fail. In Texas, Republicans are in control of the state government. Republicans are in control of the regulators, and have put in power people with ties to the fossil fuel industry. Republicans are in control of the electrical grid, which operates independently of the federal government’s infrastructure. If the grid fails again, Republicans will be right: It’s because those in power failed to do their jobs.