NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - When ERCOT asked Texans to conserve power last weekend after six generation plants went offline unexpectedly during an early heatwave, it reignited the reliability of the power grid as an issue in the Texas Governor's race.
While there were no power outages last weekend, there are concerns in the short-term and long-term over how to keep the lights on during the notorious Texas heat during the summer and the occasional bitter cold days during the winter.
The two major candidates for Governor, two-term incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke, the former Congressman from El Paso, split on one idea that's being debated as a long-term plan: Having ERCOT, which operates most of the electric grid in Texas, join the two other regional grids in the U.S., the Eastern Interconnection, and the Western Interconnection.
O'Rourke said he supports connecting to the two other regional grids, while Abbott said ERCOT should remain independent.
Both Abbott and O'Rourke appeared at different events in North Texas Tuesday afternoon, and we asked both to explain their positions and why they believe Texans would benefit under their plan.
"We'll be able to draw down power wherever we need it and Texans will never again have to worry about the lights not coming on, the heat to running or our water pipes freezing as they did last winter. This is a smart common-sense thing that most Texans can get behind."
In response, the Governor said, "With regard to joining the national grid, doing so would be both uninformed and misguided. First, it would automatically mean we would sustain a lot more regulations on the Texas grid that would increase the price of electricity. "Secondly, it would be very erroneous to assume that by joining the national grid we would suddenly never have any power outage, the proof of that is California. California is part of the national grid. They have power failures all the time.
O'Rourke has said some Texans are already facing increased costs for power after last year's winter storm.
Last year's winter storm and resulting widespread power outages led to 246 people dying in Texas according to the state.
As for ERCOT's request last weekend for Texans to conserve power, Governor Abbott said it never reached an emergency level, and that ERCOT must be more transparent with the public now after the state legislature passed bills last year requiring it.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas, PUC, which oversees ERCOT is now developing a long-term plan for the state to increase its capacity to provide power for our growing population.
We asked both Abbott and O'Rourke how Texas should increase power capacity and specifically what kinds of new power plants they envision: Thermal such as natural gas, nuclear, or renewables such as wind and solar.
They are working as we speak right now on a market redesign and that market redesign will be focusing on new sources of generation capacity, most of which will be focused on natural gas that will strongly complement the renewables that are already in place."
O'Rourke said, "We are blessed and so lucky that we have gas and oil reserves here in the State of Texas and I want to see us to continue to be the leader there, but we also have a lot of opportunity when it comes to renewable energy. Wind, solar, geothermal, and certainly hydrogen which is one of the energy sources of the future. I want us to be a leader globally in renewable energy."
The Texas Legislature will likely consider additional bills to make the power grid more reliable in the long-term when members reconvene in January.
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