TGIF: Power to the people given new meaning during historic week

Gene Deason
Editor emeritus / Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you appreciate each new day. Once it’s gone, the next day isn’t guaranteed. Even so, last Friday, as I looked ahead to what the 10-day weather forecast had in store, my fervent wish was to fast-forward one week. The advance information for Friday, Feb. 19, showed a predicted high of 47 degrees, with sunny skies.

That forecast may have been tweaked since I saw it, but whatever conditions we experience today will have to be better than the single-digit reading my outside thermometer is currently showing as I begin writing this on Tuesday.

Hopefully by now, electricity has been restored to millions of customers throughout Texas whose power went out. More on that later.

If you’re keeping score, and even if you aren’t, Texas in general and every county in the state in particular were slammed by a series of winter storms. Any one of them alone might have been remembered as one of those “generational events,” occurrences that youngsters of today will be telling their grandchildren about in 2070.

With temperatures at sub-freezing levels, a second cold front brought blizzard conditions and historically low temperatures. Then, another chilling system with a wintry mix pushed through. Ironically, that last cold front actually helped improve temperatures which had been in the zero-degree basement.

As intentional temporary blackouts addressed plummeting power reserves coupled with soaring demand, Texans across this part of the state found themselves brushing off vocabulary they hadn’t used since the last time they watched the Dallas Cowboys play.

Single-digit temperatures and widespread power outages revived memories of a similar winter blast 10 years ago, even though that one was confined mostly to the northern regions of the state. Perhaps you remember February 2011, when weather complicated the Fort Worth Stock Show and then the Super Bowl between the Packers and the Steelers. I remember it very well. Icy highways trapped me in Fort Worth for a day longer than I had intended. While waiting for roads to clear enough to drive home, I experienced the curious phenomenon known as rolling blackouts.

For the first time since, the organization that oversees such things, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, required rolling blackouts throughout the state. I suppose when this group was named, they threw in the word “reliability” as wishful thinking. I don’t think it was meant to be sarcastic.

The point is not lost on Gov. Greg Abbott. “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” he said Tuesday. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable. Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions. I thank my partners in the House and Senate for acting quickly on this challenge, and I will work with them to enhance Texas’ electric grid and ensure that our state never experiences power outages like this again.”

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has asked for appropriate committees to schedule a hearing on the crisis next week.

Similar frustration was expressed by others after those 2011 outages. Studies were made. Solutions were proposed. Recommendations were advanced. Yet, here we are again, and it’s worse than ever before.

Granted, this winter storm — or series of storms — was unprecedented in its scope and severity. Still, the preparedness and winterization steps that are standard procedure in much of the nation aren’t utilized here, according to various news reports.

Electricity is not a luxury anymore. It’s as necessary as clean water and sanitation. Truly reliable power supplies are even more crucial in this COVID-19 era when students are learning remotely and parents are working at home. Interruptions, however necessary to maintain the grid’s integrity, affect our education and economic wellbeing. Add to that the many Texans with chronic health conditions at home who need to power specialized medical equipment to survive, and the matter becomes a public health issue.

States in colder parts of the nation have handled this. It’s a false economy to cut corners and assume the worst won’t happen. When it happens, we can’t assume it won’t happen again.

The promises we’ve heard this week cannot be forgotten until next time. It will not be easy, but Texas can do better.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.