Let’s begin this update with a multiple choice quiz. Please fill in how you think Texas Governor Greg Abbott ended the first paragraph of his statewide speech Wednesday night. Here is the beginning:
“My fellow Texans. Good evening from the state emergency operations center. Tragic does not even begin to describe the devastation and suffering that ________.”
- have resulted from my leadership.
- I am going to continue blaming completely on ERCOT.
- you have endured over the past week.
Choice number 1 would have been the most accurate, but of course the Governor didn’t say that. Much of the rest of the speech stressed choice #2, blaming ERCOT, but he did not end the sentence in question like that. The correct answer is #3. This was evidently the Governor’s way of showing empathy for the four million plus Texans who went days without power during last week’s deep freeze, and for the loved ones of those who perished.
Abbott’s next line was also sort of unintentionally revealing: “Too many of you were shivering in your own homes with no power, no heat, and no water.” That can be read that it would be OK, normal, if some people “were shivering in your own homes with no power, no heat, and no water.” Four million though is “too many.” That after all had to even include some Republicans.
OK, the Independent isn’t just sending this update to make fun of Greg Abbott’s statewide address, as easy and fun as that is. No, during the speech — which came on during 6 o’clock newscasts around the state and was played on many of them — the Governor answered at least two of the questions posed in our Tuesday article on the subject.
We asked, “Will the investigation focus just on ERCOT or instead seek to look at all factors which contributed to the tragedy?”
Based on the speech the answer is a pretty clearly the former; it’s all about ERCOT. Abbott was also his usual angry self, but don’t take my word for it. He made sure we know he is angry.
“Many of you are angry. You have every right to be. I’m angry too. At a time when essential services were needed the most, the system broke. You deserve answers. You will get those answers.”
It was at this point that he began answering the question of whether ERCOT will be the focus of the investigation, saying next.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, manages the flow of power in Texas. Before the storm hit, ERCOT repeatedly assured the state and the public that ERCOT was prepared.
Those assurances turned out to be false.
We now know that power generators of all sources were not prepared for this severe winter weather. We have also learned that ERCOT operators should have acted quicker to stabilize the grid and to prevent power generators from being knocked offline.”
A few paragraphs later Abbott returned to ERCOT: “ERCOT must be overhauled. Five ERCOT board members have already resigned, including the Chair and Vice-Chair. But more must be done. Tomorrow the Legislature begins comprehensive investigations of ERCOT.”
This brings us to the second question posed in the last article by the Independent:
“Will the investigation be independent of Governor Abbott and other top state officials who have a lot at stake in what an investigation reveals?” It’s too early to answer that question definitively, but early indications are that the answer is No.
In his speech the Governor touted the investigation by the Legislature. This keeps it under the control of statewide Republican leadership. The new Speaker Dade Phelan has not been tested yet so we will not presume that he will be biased, but barring him being different than any Republican leader we have seen in a while, hopes for an investigation with any kind of independence are very limited. Democrats will be able to ask questions, but Republicans will likely control the evidence and outcome.
Additionally, Abbott describes the legislative investigation as limited to ERCOT. That clearly sounds like the actions or inactions of state officials will not be examined.
Abbott also addressed another issue raised in the Independent article, how much credence will be given to an investigation announced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton; who is under indictment for alleged stock market related crimes, under FBI investigation for other potential crimes while in office, and launched an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the presidential vote in six states (not including Texas). The Governor actually touted Paxton’s investigation in his speech, saying, ““Also, the Office of the Attorney General has launched a formal investigation into ERCOT.””
The Governor did address one issue beyond ERCOT. He invoked the “skyrocketing power bills” many Texans have received. “The state is already investigating multiple electric providers about these spikes,” Abbott said. There, the Governor appears to be referring to Paxton’s investigation. Paxton sent civil investigative demands to ERCOT and 11 private power companies. The civil investigative demands require ERCOT and the companies to turn over documents and data related to the disaster. So it’s up to the Texas Legislature and Ken Paxton to get to the bottom of what happened.
Abbott didn’t mention that such price “spikes” are designed into the Texas system as explained to the New York Times last week by the widely acknowledged architect of the Texas system, William W. Hogan. Hogan told the Times: “As you get closer and closer to the bare minimum [of available power generation], these prices get higher and higher, which is what you want.”
So a good way for Paxton to start his investigation would be by reading Texas electric utility laws.
Abbott concluded his address by assuring Texans, “Your safety is my top concern.” Just in case that wasn’t reassuring enough he added, “I pray that God continues to bless you all.”
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