Sen. Maria Cantwell Messes with Texas, Probing its Energy Meltdown

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Local (very) conservative radio host Kirby Wilbur moved to Texas not long ago but has continued to fire brickbats back at Seattle on Facebook. He deplores our tent encampments, drug deals downtown, and delays in sending Seattle schoolchildren back to class. The message: Good riddance. Alas, Kirby arrived in the Lone Star state just in time to see 4 million Texans lose electrical power in midst of a winter storm, and five-figure electrical bills.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., launched her career in Congress’ upper chamber during the Enron implosion, obtaining and releasing “smoking gun” memos and audio tapes.  The firm’s traders were creating faux power shortages and manipulating deregulated energy markets to gouge West Coast consumers to the tune of billions. The collapse of the Houston-based company cost 22,000 jobs. Sen. Cantwell is now a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She has a long memory and used a Thursday hearing to renew her interest in Texans and their electrical grid.

“According to watchdog firms, Texas power markets (ERCOT) overcharged energy users $16 billion,” Cantwell told ex-Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Pat Wood. “That left prices at the $9,000 per megawatt hour grid emergency standard for longer than necessary.” Boring in, she asked, “Do you know of any Enron traders who were involved in both the Texas and California markets that are now employed in ERCOT trading?”

“I will have to check. I’m not aware of any,” Wood replied.

Texas paid the price of a go-it-alone power grid.  One corner of the state, El Paso and its environs, was able to import electricity and experienced no blackouts.  “Quite frankly, as we learned in Texas, when you spend money on transmission, you save a lot more than you spend on getting low-cost power into your power system,” Wood said in response to Cantwell.

Texas officials have taken to boasting about how they are taking in refugees (like Kirby) from the Left Coast. It was refreshing to watch Cantwell return fire by highlighting how badly the state and its Republican rulers responded to its winter emergency. Cantwell used the Texas experience to argue for grid modernization and possibly creation of a national transmission grid. Expect action on this front to be part of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure package later this year.

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I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

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