Shortly before the Cancer took him, my good friend Russ Nunnally predicted the return of the Ice Age to the state of Texas. A few years ago we sat poolside at his home in Wiley, TX nursing Wellers Bourbon and Coca-Cola decanted in ice-cold, old-fashioned coke bottles, sexy greenish glassware that glimmered in the sun on a mid August afternoon. We clank bottles together in a toast to our common history as we each drizzled salty peanuts directly into our drinks, an act reflective of our upbringing in the smallest of towns located in the deepest South where summers are simply long steamy saunas.
Russ remarked. “The Governor appoints the folks who run the Utility companies here in Texas. They aren’t pros with experience. Guys who make big campaign donations get picked to oversee the third largest power grid in America. These fat-cat appointees know how to cut the lights on and off but not much more. We’re in for a rude awakening when a bad storm hits because the idiots running our power companies will not know what to do. There are other reasons, too. For example, in Texas our Electricity grid system is self-contained. We can’t connect up with other states like everybody else. If we run low on power, we’re on our own. ”
Russ would know these things. For decades he ran a large law firm in a big black glass building in up-town Dallas. He knew a bit about environmental law and spent time and money trying to change a system fraught with inefficiency and incompetency and, even worse, cronyism and corruption. Plus, he had good knowledge of science and weather.
“At some point in the future, the coldest air on the planet, air from Siberia, will cross over the top of the Earth and wind up in the Gulf of Mexico. Those weather events will be particularly devastating to Texas because, in order to avoid increasing taxes, we aren’t maintaining or upgrading our outdated systems and equipment. Folks will try to blame the Green Movement and the liberals but they’ll be wrong. Those of us who think we need more energy delivery systems like pipelines and wellheads don’t expect them to freeze up and shut down but, it is likely they will. Wind and solar energy will be negatively impacted as well but they are providing less than 14 % of our electricity so that’s not the problem.
At some future time a massive storm will knock out power in millions of homes here. People will suffer and die, especially folks who live on the other side of the tracks. It will become a phrase as reflected in the first two lines of Richard III by William Shakespeare: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Yet, there may be a good ending to it all. The experience will likely change the way Texas manages the environment, hopefully for the better.” He predicted.
We refreshed our drinks. Russ continued.
I asked, “Will all these tragic things come to pass in all sections of Texas?”
“Good question. The power grid is different over in far West Texas. El Paso may be spared of power blackouts. (And was!) We’ll just have to wait and see. But, study how a massive winter storm impacts lives. Iced roads kill. Closed Interstates create economic turmoil. Frozen pipes break and flood homes and businesses. Water becomes scarcer. Boil water notices don’t help when there’s no power to boil water. Bacteriological issues from spoiled water make people sick. Medical facilities are over-taxed. It goes on and on.”
“Okay.” I said. “How did all this come about? Why did it happen this way?”
“You probably know that Texas tends to resist outside interference, especially from the Federal Government. Even today, some want to secede from the Union and declare Texas a sovereign Country. In 1935, almost a century ago, Texas took steps to avoid Federal regulation that covers interstate electricity transmission. Today, the rest of the U.S. is operated by two (2) electric grids that reward power plants that build additional capacity for periods of excess demand, like dead of summer heat waves and unusually cold winters. Texas does not.”
“But, how does Texas solve this problem?”
Russ grimaced. “The state of Texas likely won’t do what it takes to avoid the impact of future catastrophic weather events because, in order to ready for it, a tax increase is needed to fund the upgrade. Yet, Texas really needs to reserve electricity for surprise weather events which seem to be occurring more frequently in these times.”
“So, what can a person do to help the situation?”
“Assuming that a real nasty weather event actually occurs I expect that most folks won’t do anything except complain to family, friends and neighbors. A few of us will take time to communicate with elected officials and when we do, we can expect them to scare us away by suggesting that we’ll be required to pay more taxes in order to carry out what they will label as “wasteful spending.”
Considering the costs of rebuilding Texas after the Storm of 2021, I wonder which is more wasteful, a tax increase in 2016, the year Russ and I had our poolside talk, or the drama and expenses of the mega-winter storm in February, one exponentially engorged by the COVID 19 pandemic?
I can’t say for sure but, right about now, I’d sure appreciate sitting poolside holding an old-fashioned Coca-Cola bottle with Bourbon and coke and salty peanuts in it, listening to Russ.
Bob May is from Newton. His book, published in May of 2019, is available at www.havefundammit.com or you can email him at email@example.com.