Multiple reports are circulating that, in the midst of a crisis that’s rattling his state, America’s favorite zodiac killer suspect has decided this would be a great time to sip umbrella drinks and catch some rays on a Cancun beach. However, as of 9AM ET, this story remains unconfirmed. It was broken on Wednesday evening by former MSNBC anchor David Schuster, whose last big breaking news story was how Hillary Clinton was going to be replaced on the 2016 Democratic ticket. Schuster also said that Chelsea Clinton had been “pimped out” to superdelegates. So … keep that in mind. Cruz’s office hasn’t denied the trip, which could mean he’s definitely in Cancun. It could also mean he’s definitely hiding in a closet so he can jump out and scream “fake news!”
Though, seriously, it looks like Ted Cruz went to Cancun.
But if Cruz could escape the chill to just … chill, he’s definitely one of the lucky few. Because many in Texas are now wrestling with the results of a cold snap combined with a blackout. The combined effects of which include things like this:
That’s just one example of the small-scale disasters facing many families this morning that come from a combination of a utility model that maximizes profit by promoting shortages, and a construction model that minimizes costs by allowing builders to skip out on things like insulation.
It’s not just homes. Supply lines in towns and cities are often buried just inches below the ground when they’re buried at all, giving far from adequate protection to municipal water supplies. Just think of Texas as one of those companies that proudly brags about its “six sigma” efficiency, without mentioning that to get there it cut every possible corner. Including any ability to respond to a disruption in normal conditions.
Then, on top of the dark, and the cold, and the lack of water, and the busted pipes, Texans are also dealing with a supply chain that is breaking down, leaving some areas short of food. As the Texas Tribune reports, stores in Texas have had to throw out frozen food in huge amounts. Though some stores have backup power, that power is designed around outages that might last hours, not days. Some stores were operating cash-only sales conducted from lines of coolers and introducing Texans to the joys of food rationing.
All of this might not seem quite so painful if it wasn’t also perfectly predictable. Not only did forecasters give the state an advance warning of the arctic blast about to hit this week, but a review of past disasters made it clear that Texas was not ready for an event that was dead certain to come. As Bloomberg reports, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North America Electric Reliability Corporation both prepared reports following a cold front that plunged the state into blackouts back in February 2011. That event caused instruments and pipelines at gas and coal plants to freeze. The state saw four days of extensive rolling blackouts, and it did so at a time when wind was barely a blip in Texas’ energy mix.
And 2011 was far from the first. One of the biggest conclusions was that utilities had failed to act on the recommendations of a report issued after a 1989 event that also generated systemwide rolling blackouts in response to multiple days of cold weather. The 1989 report gave recommendations that were not followed by 2011. And no surprise, that 2011 report generated recommendations that have still not been followed in 2020.
That’s because Texas’ ERCOT system is optimized to generate profit, not energy security. It doesn’t reward utilities for taking steps to safeguard power in an emergency. It certainly doesn’t provide any incentive to generate more power than is necessary. In fact, the best way to game the system for maximum profit is often by taking advantage of price spikes generated through shortages. Some installations were able to generate more profit on Monday and Tuesday alone than they would have gained through an entire year of normal operation.
A 100-megawatt wind farm in the state that might have normally made almost $40,000 over a two-day period in February could reap more than $9.5 million on Monday and Tuesday alone, Nicholas Steckler, a power-markets analyst at Bloomberg NEF, said.
$10 billion worth of electricity was sold on Monday—two orders of magnitude greater than normal—at a time when millions of people in the state were without power. And all of that happened without a single major power line coming down.
No one should really be surprised. This is, after all, the state where chemical plants just keep exploding, even though it has happened before. And before. The Houston area alone has had at least five chemical explosions just since 2019. Because Texas is a giant experiment in cutting corners for profit.
Not to worry, Texans: Rick Perry says you like it this way. As The Houston Chronicle reports, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” said Perry. And then, in perfect Rick Perryese, he said, “Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.” Meaning that having a grid that works well in a crisis means it’s not resilient? Maybe we just need to get more fusion reactors.
In the meantime, Texans will have to settle for the generators, water, and blankets being sent by President Biden. Who doesn’t even seem to have required Gov. Greg Abbott to sing his praises before helping.