We’re reluctant to criticize how other states handle their affairs. Wisconsin certainly isn’t perfect, and it’s never fun to feel like an outsider is picking on you.
That said, Texas, it’s time to join the rest of us on the national power grid.
There are really three grids nationally. There are eastern and western interconnections, and then Texas. In Texas, the grid goes by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It doesn’t quite cover the entire state, but the vast majority of Texans are within it. Power from that grid stays within Texas and, since it doesn’t cross state lines, isn’t subject to federal rules regarding power grids.
When a winter storm clobbered much of the country, Texas was the area that lost power across the widest area and for the longest duration. Other areas could use their interconnected grid to bring in power, provided their power lines were still up. Texas didn’t have that option, switching off a substantial part of the state for an extended period.
So, why is this a Wisconsin issue? Let us answer that question with another question: Have you looked at gas prices?
When Texas loses power, a lot of refineries do, too. That creates a short-term shortage and a spike in gas prices. And, since Texas will export gas but not electricity, that price spike goes national.
We understand Texas’ desire to remain outside of federal regulation to a point. The federal government is rarely an exemplary example of quick responses or of flexibility. States can often handle their own needs better than the one-size-fits-all approach used too frequently by the federal government.
There’s also a real question of defending federalism and the idea that states are sovereign entities alongside the federal government. Our nation was designed with considerable power held by states, and there’s little question federal power has eroded some of that over time.
But there’s also a legitimate question of whether the actions of one state can be permitted to harm others. It’s not entirely dissimilar from the concept that a person’s freedom to swing their arm around ends at another person’s nose. Well, Texas took a swing and missed on its power grid, and we got hit in the wallet.
There are other issues to consider. Federal aid is already being sent to Texas in the wake of this disaster. That’s appropriate. That’s what Americans do, we help each other when help is needed. But there’s more than a little irony in the fact Texas is willing to accept federal funding to deal with a crisis spurred by its resistance to federal rules.
Some Texans have been hit with astonishingly high energy bills in the wake of the wintry weather the state received. Reports have included bills in the tens of thousands of dollars, though most aren’t that high. There’s talk of a bailout for customers slammed by those bills and, if such a bailout comes from the federal government, that involves us as well.
This wasn’t an unforeseen event. A 2011 storm knocked out power to millions of Texas residents while the Super Bowl was being played in Dallas. Denying Texans football is downright dangerous, but even that led only to a study about how to better prepare ERCOT, not action to do so.
It’s simply not reasonable to ask the rest of the nation to hold its breath any time Texas faces wintry weather, even if it’s a once-in-a-decade event. The reality is that we are connected, and Texas needs to recognize that reality.
If the federal government can impose itself by claiming interstate commerce applies to items that are manufactured, produced and sold within a single state (and it does) there’s no question there are grounds to act in this case. If ERCOT failed this spectacularly during a natural event, we can have little confidence in it holding up against intentional acts by malign individuals. The recent hacker attack on a Florida water plant should be sufficient evidence to show that’s not an unreasonable concern, especially after ERCOT’s vulnerabilities were put on such public display.
The events in Texas over the past couple weeks primarily affected Texans. But the ripple effects were felt throughout the nation. That can’t happen again.
Texas, it’s time to join the rest of the nation.