Abbott and Hidalgo Warn This Crisis Isn't Over Yet Even After Huge Gains In Power Restoration

Gov. Greg Abbott showed some real human emotion in remarks Thursday blasting ERCOT and empathizing with shivering Texans.
Gov. Greg Abbott showed some real human emotion in remarks Thursday blasting ERCOT and empathizing with shivering Texans. Screenshot
In their latest updates on the horrible winter weather still lingering over much of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo both said that while we should celebrate the fact that most Texans and 99.5 percent of all local CenterPoint Energy customers will go to bed with electricity buzzing in their homes Thursday night, those gains don’t mean this crisis is over just yet.

“You need to know there will be more cold temperatures in various regions across the state of Texas tonight… we still have to deal with the uncertainty of what is going on in the power generation facilities,” Abbott said.

Hidalgo echoed that point: “We can’t assume that we’re out of the woods with the power issues; the grid is still fragile,” she said. “There’s more cold weather coming tonight, and so that’s going to put pressure on these power plants that have just come on. There’s also going to be more demand… so that could put a stress on the grid.”

“We are not expecting that that’ll happen. It’s not something we’re sure of, but we have to be cautious, and it’s not ‘Mission accomplished’ right now,” Hidalgo continued.

It sure seems like one of Abbott’s inner circle told the governor he needed to up the ante on the emotion front after the halting remarks he gave Wednesday. In his last address, Abbott mostly kept his eyes glued to his notes and rattled off a bullet-point list of statements heavy on weather forecast details and minutiae about around-the-edges fixes (like making it easier for plumbers and insurance adjusters to get temporary licenses to work in Texas), but light on empathy for the plight of his fellow Texans.

Abbott’s tone Thursday was a 180-degree shift from Wednesday’s performance; “I want to start off by letting everybody in Texas know that we know how much you have suffered over the past few days,” Abbott began, “and we know the enormous challenges that you’ve been dealing with because of lack of access to power for the past couple of days.”

He celebrated the news that since Wednesday's news conference power has been restored to nearly two million Texans, and that the 325,000 outages still active across the state are due to things like downed power lines and blown transformers instead of the massive decline in power generation that prompted the first wave of mandated blackouts from ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) early Monday morning.

“We hope and anticipate no location will be without power tonight,” Abbott said.

Abbott then pivoted into outrage mode, mostly focusing on ERCOT’s role as state power grid operator and blasting the agency for failing to do more to prepare for a storm that was forecasted to be potentially catastrophic for weeks.

“I’m taking responsibility for the current status of ERCOT. Again, I find what has happened unacceptable,” Abbott said. He mentioned how he learned today that the current leader of the grid operator’s board of directors doesn't even live in Texas — recently-minted board Chair Sally Talberg resides up in Michigan — while Vice Chair Peter Cranton hangs his hat in sunny Del Mar, California. Abbott said he wants the Legislature to pass new rules “to ensure that the membership is going to be more responsive to the people of Texas.”

Speaking of the Legislature, Abbott also declared two new emergency priorities for state lawmakers on Thursday: making winterization prep for Texas’ independent electricity generators mandatory, and coming up with the funding to make those required winter weather preparations possible.

Both are definitely much-needed steps, but begs the question about why these types of preemptive crisis-preparations weren’t already required in the first place. The governor previously named an investigation into what went wrong with ERCOT’s storm prep another emergency item on Tuesday.

Abbott sounded incensed that ERCOT had assured the public that it would have enough power to meet peak demand this winter, and that the agency’s leadership claimed to be ready for the super-cold weather ahead of this week’s storm.

“ERCOT failed on each of these measures… Texans deserve answers about why the shortfalls occurred, and how they’re gonna be corrected, and Texans will get those answers,” Abbott stressed.

ERCOT President Bill Magness said Thursday that Texas’ power grid “was seconds and minutes” away from system-wide failure early Monday morning, and there could have been blackouts across the state which “could have occurred for months” if grid operators at the helm didn’t act quickly to order energy providers like CenterPoint Energy to bring over a million Texan residences offline.

Abbott isn’t sure he buys it. “I want the Legislature to investigate to find out the exact details about whether or not that is true… If it isn’t true then there are serious consequences because of that. If it is true, there is serious action that needs to be taken by the state of Texas,” he said.

In response to a question from a reporter asking Abbott what he could share — other than policy proposals — to Texans who are sitting at home furious, in the freezing cold, under boil water notices when they can’t even turn on their stoves due to power outages, Abbott stretched his emotion muscles once again.

“What I say to them first, as a human being, [is] that the challenges they’re dealing with are truly human struggles that they should never have to face. And as a human being, we want to alleviate the struggles they are going through, most immediately,” Abbott said. “But from a longer-term perspective as governor of Texas, I want to ensure this never happens again.”

click to enlarge Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo said Thursday just because lights are coming on and heat is flowing for many doesn't mean this crisis is over. - SCREENSHOT
Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo said Thursday just because lights are coming on and heat is flowing for many doesn't mean this crisis is over.
Both Abbott and Hidalgo said Thursday that they’re pushing hard for a federal major disaster declaration that would free up relief funds for Texans whose homes were damaged due to burst frozen water pipes and other storm-related issues.

Hidalgo said she wants Harris County residents to know “that we are fighting for every dollar and every resource on behalf of our community,” and asked residents whose homes were damaged by the storm to fill out a form on the Ready Harris website.

It’s an important step to convince the federal government of the huge need for relief in Texas, since most of the damage this storm has wrought is inside homes and not as easily-noticeable as the obvious damage from something like a hurricane that government officials can easily document through drive-by “windshield assessments,” Hidalgo stressed.

She also asked county residents to conserve both electricity and water in the days ahead, the latter of which would help build back the water pressure needed to lift the boil water advisory most of Harris County is still under.

The greater Houston area isn’t alone in having to boil tap water to make it safe for human consumption — Texas Commission on Environmental Quality director Toby Baker said Thursday that approximately 13 million Texans are now under boil water notices, a massive spike from the seven million he said were under those warnings as of Wednesday.

Hidalgo asked county residents not to drip their pipes ahead of tonight’s hard freeze to help get the area’s water pressure high enough to get closer to lifting the boil notice, which Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner might not happen until Sunday or Monday even on an optimistic timeline. Like Turner, Hidalgo asked that homeowners shut off their water Thursday night at the main valve and drain pipes ahead of time to make nighttime bursts in the freezing cold less likely.

“It’s been a brutal week,” she said, “one of the worst in memory for most. But we are getting through it.”

Space City Weather’s Matt Lanza wrote Thursday night that “temperatures will recover quickly tomorrow” after Thursday night’s hard freeze, and that we can expect “full sunshine” by late morning. “There will likely be another freeze tomorrow night,” he warned, “but temperatures will probably be about three to six degrees warmer than tonight.”

“The finish line is in sight,” Lanza continued.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards