Suppose Texas Was the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Okay, just leave reality behind for a moment and suppose.

Here’s the parallels

Both are part of a national network, the turnpike of the interstate highway system and Texas part of the power grid. Or Texas used to be, before it got all uppity and independent.

Suppose the Penn Turnpike had no snowplows and a storm came whistling through the central to eastern United States. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New York are plowed off clean, but the highway is backed up 500 miles in both directions because no one can get through Pennsylvania.

That’s pretty much what happened to Texas

Once part of the national grid, Texas decided in 1999 to deregulate and jump off the national grid, handing over the state’s entire electricity delivery system to a market-based patchwork of private generators, transmission companies and energy retailers. Who needs snowplows in Texas?

No backup, but Texas is the Lone Star State and hasn’t needed backup since that embarrassing little event at the Alamo.

Why would they do that? Because it was a stick-in-the-eye to the rest of America and a windfall for special interests. Texas has always been good at both. They are, by the way, the only state in the lower 48 that are not connected to and supported by the national grid.

And the energy industry wanted it

The people wanted it (a little bit less than industry, but okay). Both parties supported it, proving bi-partisan support of carving up the turkey.

Competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates and offering consumers more choices about the power they use,” said George W. Bush, then the governor, as he signed the top-to-bottom deregulation legislation.

I wonder if George was on vacation in the Bahamas last week. We haven’t heard much from him.

Two years later there was a cold spell

According to the NYTimes, “The state’s entire energy infrastructure was walloped with glacial temperatures that even under the strongest of regulations might have frozen gas wells and downed power lines.”

Hmm, maybe, maybe not. What is certain is that Texas couldn’t get help from nearby states because they had cut themselves loose from the grid.

But surely this was a learning experience, no?

Nope. Not a chance.

“With so many cost-conscious utilities competing for budget-shopping consumers, there was little financial incentive to invest in weather protection and maintenance. Wind turbines are not equipped with the de-icing equipment routinely installed in the colder climes of the Dakotas and power lines have little insulation. The possibility of more frequent cold-weather events was never built into infrastructure plans in a state where climate change remains an exotic, disputed concept.”

Yeah well, dispute no more

What was it George Bush said about being fooled?

There’s an old saying in Tennessee,” he began.

A series of awkward pauses followed. “I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!'”

Or something like that.

It doesn’t really matter, it’s just Texas being Texas and George being George.


Image Credit: NYTimes.com

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