Finger-pointing and firings will not resolve or prevent another storm-induced power failure

Houston residents fill up water from an outdoor hose after power outages and water shortage from the winter storm.

Photo from New York Times

Houston residents fill up water from an outdoor hose after power outages and water shortage from the winter storm.

Besides a shivering fit or the sniffles, the recent winter storm that hit many regions in Texas has resulted in damaged and destroyed homes, hunger and resource scarcity, and has even proved fatal for 25 people. There were 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses without power or clean water. Texas citizens are outraged with the drastic effects of power outages and water contamination, and their anger is being directed toward an aspect of Texas living that had previously been appreciated or gone unnoticed: Texas’s deregulated energy market. 

Texas is on its own power grid, meaning it generates and transports all of its energy from within the state, to provide light, heat, and electricity for Texas homes. Most other states operate on a federally regulated power grid, but in the interest of market competition, cheap retail rates, and free will for utility companies, the Texas state legislature decided in 2002 to deregulate Texas’s power supply. 75% of Texas energy production and transportation is overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a private, regulatory and advisory body that manages Texas’s power, and makes recommendations to Texas’s government. ERCOT is not subject to any federal regulation; it does not have to keep up to any national codes, and is the proverbial Goliath of all things energy in this state. Much of the 2021 Texas Power Crisis can be attributed to outdated and low-grade equipment, all authorized by ERCOT. 

The recent hardships faced by Texans have highlighted major shortcomings and faults within the state’s power infrastructure, hinting at the faults of deregulation. Many are now questioning if now is the time for deregulation, and the free reign of major utility companies and government officials, to come to a Goliathan fall. It is the opinion of this reporter that the firing of ERCOT suits will not be sufficient for the major, structural change that needs to be made in Texas’s energy market.

For years, Texas’s free reign of market manipulation has gone unchecked. However, there has been a recent storm of firings and relocations of some high-ranking officials in Texas’s Energy corporations. Most notably, ERCOT’s (now former) President and CEO, Bill Magness, who has received media coverage after being fired and given sole responsibility for explaining the cause of the crisis. Magness was the first official. Since his departure, two other Texas energy officials have resigned. Both of them are from thePublic Utility Commission, which oversees the supply of energy and other utilities.

It is my belief that the use of a scapegoat will not be enough to prevent this problem from occurring in the future. Giving the people, including the media sources, one or two figures on to which all focus and blame can be placed, satisfies the short attention span of the news and the general public. However, I will not be satisfied. I recognize that these public figures that have been fired will be compensated, possibly even rewarded, for having to bear the angrier side of public opinion. I also understand that these figureheads will not sustain any permanent damage to their reputations. It’s possible we see one of these figures, in a few years, running for elected office (deregulation got George W. Bush elected governor of Texas). I use the term “figures” in place of “people” to emphasize their material value: they exist to fill a space and title, and to execute the task given to them, most likely by the corporate actors that have benefitted from the years of discretion in the way they handle our resources. Forgive me for my sardonic tone, but it’s all too familiar.

To put my thoughts in context, think of it like a mask: During this time, many of us have a face covering that we use daily. It might be made of a certain material and it might have words on it, it’s our go-to. This mask does its job, somewhat protecting us from airborne sickness, but mainly giving us a sense of security. We know the mask is there, and we trust it to protect us. However, at one point, through miraculous circumstances, we manage to get sick. In that case, we get rid of the mask, throwing it away or setting it aside to be washed and worn again in the future. In the meantime, we adopt a new mask, which holds the same purpose and does the same job. We can only hope this time it will be more effective. The transmittable sickness has not disappeared–the problem still exists. The only thing that’s changed is the mask we have on.

Now, consider this: we don’t have the same autonomy to change government officials like we do facemasks. Of course, the electoral process deserves merit, but until the next election, we are at the will of whatever head fills the slot left open by Magness, and the lasting effects will be left in their hands. It will be up to them whether this begets action, like the wake up call it is, or if this will be just another blip in history that is chalked up to “2020”.

I will admit, in this situation, some action is better than none. I do not wish to pass judgment or baselessly criticize the decisions of our state’s Government officials. I respect action being taken at all, and consideration being offered. However, I do not believe that this line of action needs to end here. I do not agree with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who believes Magness’s firing “signals accountability.” Magness isn’t the issue, and only firing him will not solve anything.

I don’t mean to suggest more firing. However, I would propose taking a deeper look into the inner-workings and operations of entities that have so much influence over key aspects to our survival––our access to light, heat, and clean water. If deregulation is to be blamed, rather than pulling at the flowers (Magness, and the other two officials who have been removed so far), let’s get to the root of the issue. Let’s get people with expertise in energy, power and weather equipment, and resource distribution, all together to take a look at the situation in Texas. Federal oversight seems to be irreconcilable for Texas’s state officials, but it could serve as a light of understanding at the end of a long, dark and cold tunnel.

I urge you all to see past the political maneuvers perpetrated by those truly responsible for the inadequate response to the recent disaster. if we truly want to prevent another occurrence where people must be afraid of all of the negative cob possibilities,We need to create actual, structural change. Change that will Continue to benefit the people, no matter who is in charge. When problem is systemic, cutting off one head will only be bringing three back that are more vicious than the first.