JUST PLAIN TALK: Texas — What happened and how to help

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

Less than two weeks after a Texas legislator filed a bill proposing a referendum on secession, Texas sent an urgent request for federal relief in response to a massive, record-shattering blizzard. The last time Texas tried secession, it didn't work out so well. Sam Houston, then governor of Texas, tried to warn them, but being Texans, they insisted on doing it their way. The Lone Star state instills an air of confidence in residents but is sometimes misplaced. As our Texas native granddaughter once explained, "DD, people from Texas drive like they want to."

Unlike the 70s-age bumper sticker, I don't want anyone in this country freezing in the dark. Natural disasters overwhelm cities and states; the federal government is the go-to response. I'm from the government, and I'm here to help is not a punchline.

After a storm hit the state 10 years ago, rolling blackouts affected 3 million residents. The federal government bailed Texas out then and issued guidelines so taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook in the future. Among the recommendations were beefed-up winterization procedures for the electrical grid. However, the state's public utility commission rejected the proposals. After all, the guidelines would increase costs for businesses and consumers attracted to Texas' affordable power rates. 

Roughly 90% of Texas homes are part of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). In El Paso and most of west Texas, residents rely on El Paso Electric instead. As part of the Western International grid, El Paso Electric could bring power in from other locations. To avoid federal oversight, ERCOT chose to rely on power generated in Texas, Boo Boo Numero Uno. After 2011, El Paso Electric upgraded its equipment to handle extended periods of -10 degrees Fahrenheit. ERCOT didn't, Boo Boo Numero Dos. While our granddaughters and their parents had no water or electricity in Houston, 12 homes were without power in El Paso.

Green energy, a whipping boy of conservatives, is not the problem. According to Dan Woodfin, an ERCOT senior director, reduced electrical production from wind turbines was the least significant factor. Instead, frozen gauges at natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants are more to blame. Also, during cold temperatures, natural gas doesn't flow as fast. Woodfin echoed, "It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system." Deregulation and the free-market mantra contribute as well. There is no incentive to prepare for bad winter weather when you focus on low prices.

All the ice and snow will have melted when this is published, but the aftermath will linger. Cash donations are the best way to help. Beware of scammers. They emerge like cockroaches after disasters. Austin Disaster Relief Network, www.adrntx.org, and the Houston Food Bank www.houstonfoodbank.org/ are two reputable charities that will help people rebuild and recover.

You can't always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.