Why Texas’ troubled power grid could be a political liability for Greg Abbott: author

Why Texas’ troubled power grid could be a political liability for Greg Abbott: author
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Economy

One of the issues that former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Texas’ Democratic 2022 gubernatorial nominee, has been using to hammer Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is the Lone Star State’s ongoing energy woes. Texas suffered a widespread blackout during a bitter cold snap in February 2021, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has feared blackouts during the extreme heatwaves that Texas has suffered during the Summer of 2022.

Author Paul Alexander, in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on September 6, examines the energy problems that Texas has been facing and the political implications for Republican Abbott.

In a tweet posted on July 11, O’Rourke wrote, “We can’t rely on the grid when it’s hot. We can’t rely on the grid when it’s cold. We can’t rely on Greg Abbott. It’s time to vote him out and fix the grid.”

READ MORE: 'I am going to do something': Beto O'Rourke shreds Greg Abbott for refusing to combat gun violence

That messaging, Alexander notes, has been a recurring theme during O’Rourke’s campaign. And O’Rourke’s Democratic running mate, Mike Collier, has been using “Fix the damn grid” as a campaign slogan.

Texas is the energy capital of the world, and the governor can’t even keep the lights on,” Alexander writes.That is a criticism regularly leveled against Greg Abbott — often by his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke. The former congressman from El Paso, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and then ran a quixotic campaign for president in 2020, is now hoping to prevent Abbott from winning a third term. While some polls from the summer have O’Rourke trailing Abbott by 5 points, the RealClearPolitics average puts the gap at around 7 points.”

Alexander continues, “The snarky barb about Abbott and energy is a reference to Winter Storm Uri, the history-making Arctic blast that, for four days in February 2021, held Texas in its deadly grip. Unable to meet demand, the state’s power grid failed, leaving 11 million people without electricity. The result was catastrophic.”

If recent polls are accurate, Abbott is likely to be reelected — although not by double digits. Republicans typically enjoyed double-digit victories in statewide races in Texas during the 1990s and 2000s, but these days, those victories are more in the range of 3-7 percent. President Joe Biden lost Texas by about 6 percent in 2020 compared to now-Sen. Mitt Romney carrying the state by 15 percent in 2012’s presidential election. Texas was once deep red; now, it’s more light red.

READ MORE: 'It isn’t funny to me': Beto O’Rourke draws applause for calling out a laughing heckler during Texas townhall

A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll released in late August showed O’Rourke trailing Abbott by 7 percent. And the fear of blackouts is one of the things that O’Rourke is using to attack Abbott.

“With some success,” Alexander explains, “O’Rourke has turned the grid into a wedge issue in the campaign, which is not surprising since a University of Texas at Tyler survey from last month found that only 15 percent of Texans have confidence in the current grid…. As O’Rourke navigates the campaign trail, which has seen him crisscrossing the state as he hits rural towns often overlooked by Democrats who resist politicking in traditionally Republican strongholds, he calls for the grid to be regulated. He also argues that Texas should develop more renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, and proposes that the state connect to one or more nearby state or regional grids.”

Alexander notes that the ongoing fear of blackouts has plagued Texas during its summer heatwaves.

“In July, as a ‘heat dome’ hovered over the state for four days, a dozen municipalities sustained record temperatures with some reaching 112 degrees,” Alexander observes. “To meet the extraordinary demands for power, ERCOT resorted to offering to pay business and industrial customers to cut their electricity use. Reuters reports that such incentives given by an agency whose commissioners are appointed by Abbott, a sort of corporate pay-off scheme, ‘has added more than $1 billion to power fees’ paid by ordinary customers.”

Alexander continues, “But Abbott had no choice. Without power cuts, the grid would likely have failed, plunging Texas into another statewide crisis. Even so, there were some localized outages. No political analyst can say for sure what would happen in the governor’s race in November if there were a grid failure before then, but it would probably be unlikely to help the incumbent who keeps insisting that all the problems are fixed.”

READ MORE: ERCOT urges Texans to conserve power as Texas battles a massive heatwave

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