The Texas grid is designed to fail

“The culprit is pretty clear. Recent research has shown climate change made the South Asian heat wave 30 times more likely to happen, and it’s very likely the same will be true for the European and American heat waves. The peak of summer could be even worse. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts above-average temperatures in June, July, and August for most of the lower 48.

Texas may be the most vulnerable of those 48. Most states in the continental US are connected to power grids that sprawl across state (and at times even international) lines. But Texas is, somewhat infamously, an energy island: It operates a power grid that’s mostly disconnected from the rest of the country. Depending on whom you ask, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Keeping the Texas grid disconnected from the rest of the country means it won’t fall under federal regulations, as grids that cross state lines do. But it also means Texas can’t borrow power from other states when its power infrastructure fails, as it did in February 2021 when Winter Storm Uri hit, knocking out power across the state for days. Hundreds of people died as a result.”

“A little over 20 years ago, Texas deregulated its energy market. And Texas is not unique in that; deregulation obviously has been kind of the story of American policy for decades. And it came to the electricity market in Texas, as it did to other states. But in Texas, it took a form that we do not see anywhere else. Essentially, they created a competitive market where supply and demand are the rule of the day. There’s no one power company that you go to, like there is in a lot of the country. You get these competing electric providers. But the real thing that makes Texas unique is that it is what they call an “energy-only market.”

In other parts of the country, a power plant, also known as a generator, gets paid to be around in case they’re needed. But in Texas, in an attempt to create this kind of perfect competitive market, they said, “No, you’re only going to make money by selling electricity at the time that it is needed, at its time of use.” So our generators only make money selling power on the market.

When you take that approach and you couple it with the law of supply and demand, what you’re doing is you’re creating a system that is run on scarcity. The less electricity that is available, the more expensive it will be. So in our market, we created a system where power plant operators make their margins by relying on moments of extreme scarcity that will drive up the price of electricity. And this will be their big payday. These moments may only come a handful of times a year but this is where you make your money.

Proponents of this market said that it incentivizes efficiency. Like, you cut out all the fat, and you don’t have any electricity generators that are getting paid to just sit around. They would claim that that creates an efficient market. The reality, though, is that when you need extra power on hand, you have less of it available.”

“One of the things that’s been really wild for me to see happen in the aftermath of the 2021 blackout is the rhetoric around this market. I’ve been an energy reporter for years and years, and the Texas system was always held up as a kind of point of pride by politicians in power and regulators and industry people. We had this unique thing that was uniquely Texan and had created this efficient market. And in the aftermath of the blackout, it didn’t take long for a lot of the same people to suddenly start saying, “Oh, we have a crisis-driven market. We need to overhaul this market, we need to reform things so that it is now more focused on reliability.”

They were making all these promises they were going to change things. But — and this is where it gets really kind of confounding — they wanted to change things without actually overhauling the system. So their argument is that we are keeping our unique energy-only market, but we are also going to provide greater reliability within that framework. But the question right now is like, how do you do that? Or even, can you do that? I’ve interviewed a lot of experts in the world of energy that just are not buying it right now.”

” There isn’t just one fix. There are a lot of different things put together that could really help the situation. I think the most obvious one — the one that you don’t have to be a grid engineer to understand — is increasing interconnections between Texas and other neighboring grids. I’ve read very convincing analyses that say that if we were better connected, we still would have had blackouts in 2021 but they would not have been nearly as catastrophic as they were. They would not have lasted as long because after day one, maybe day two, we could have started pulling more power from other states and gotten people’s lights back on faster, and the kind of intensity of that disaster could have been muted.”

“I don’t want to be too techno-utopian about this, but investing in things like battery storage that would allow us to make renewable energy more dispatchable seems like a no-brainer. Building out solar is huge because we usually use the most electricity in the summer. And the conditions that drive that high energy use (i.e. the state being baked by the sun) are the exact same conditions that create a ton of solar electricity. So that seems like a pretty obvious one to try to meet that super-high demand.

Another thing is energy efficiency. The energy efficiency goals in Texas are lower than most other states, and increasing our energy efficiency goals and programs would really help with grid reliability, because it would decrease the spikes in demand. I’m thinking of everything from insulation to more efficient appliances to energy efficiency at power plants, because it takes so much energy to produce power or drill for oil. If you have a better-insulated home, you’re just not going to be running the AC the same amount even on a hot day, so in aggregate it can make a huge difference statewide. And it’s so much cheaper than anything else.”

Texas Gov. Abbott’s border inspections prompt Mexico to move lucrative trade link to New Mexico

“Trucks were re-routed through Santa Teresa when Abbott’s inspections snarled commercial traffic at Texas border crossings, and now Mexico has decided to move a long-planned trade railway connection worth billions of dollars from Texas to the New Mexico crossing, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday. “We’re now not going to use Texas,” Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said. “We can’t leave all the eggs in one basket and be hostages to someone who wants to use trade as a political tool.””

Republicans Defend Texas Social Media Law—and Compelled Speech

“A blatantly unconstitutional Texas social media law can start being enforced unless the Supreme Court steps in. The law was blocked by a U.S. district court last year after internet advocacy and trade groups challenged it. But a new order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit means Texas can begin enforcement of its social media law—and wreak havoc on the internet as we know it in the process.

NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA)—the groups that filed the lawsuit against the Texas social media law—have now submitted an emergency petition to the Supreme Court asking it to intervene. Meanwhile, Texas and a slew of other states with Republican leaders are advocating for the law, which would treat large social media platforms like common carriers (such as railroads and telephone companies) that have a legal obligation to serve everyone.

How we got here: The Texas social media law (H.B. 20) bans large platforms from engaging in many forms of content moderation—including rejecting unwanted content outright, limiting its reach, or attaching disclaimers to it—based on the viewpoint said content conveys. It’s similar to legislation passed (and blocked, for now) in Florida.

Borrowing a page from George Orwell, supporters like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott say the law is designed to protect free speech. But in addition to protecting people and private entities from censorship, the First Amendment also protects against them being compelled by the government to speak or host certain messages—which is exactly what H.B. 20 does.

Accordingly, Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas held last December that H.B. 20 violated the First Amendment and issued a preliminary injunction against enforcing it.

But Texas appealed, and last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a stay on the lower court’s decision—meaning Texas can start immediately enforcing the social media law.

The 5th Circuit did not offer an opinion explaining its reasoning, so it’s hard to say what’s going on there. In any event, NetChoice and the CCIA are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.”

“My children love being Texans”: A father of a trans teen weighs whether his family can stay

“gender-affirming care — especially the varieties that are usually used in children, such as puberty blockers — are validated and accepted by pretty much every child medical society in the US and the world. Lots of scientific studies have validated the value of gender-affirming care for children and, of course, adults.”

“The governor’s order kind of caught us off guard. If this continues and this gets enforced more broadly, I think we are going to have to leave, and that sucks because we’ve lived here for almost two decades. We love living in Houston. We’ve been pretty happy here. But we are going to do what’s right for our family and obviously we cannot stay here with the state threatening to take away our children, who we love very much and we’re just trying to support their gender identity. It’s a shitshow, what can I say?”

Democrats’ fears about restricting mail-in voting were confirmed in Texas

“Thousands of votes were, in fact, thrown out, directly as a result of a new requirement in the law. A new AP analysis of data from Texas found that a whopping 13 percent of the state’s absentee ballots were discarded or uncounted.

And in the state’s biggest county, the new procedures it mandated contributed to a hugely messy vote-counting process.

“It’s been every bit as catastrophic as we feared it would be,” said James Slattery, a senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “I think the onus is on the legislature to acknowledge the harm that it did to Texas voters by passing Senate Bill 1 and make amends by repealing it next year.”

But that probably won’t happen given that key Republicans who pushed for the law have continued to defend it.”

“The statewide rejection rate for mail-in ballots has typically been between 1 and 2 percent in past elections and was about 1 percent in the 2020 general election when mail-in voting rates were much higher. But in the 2022 primaries, county-level rejection rates ranged from 6 to 22 percent, according to data compiled by the Texas Civil Rights Project”

“In four counties that reported the reason they had rejected mail-in ballots, those identification requirements were to blame over 90 percent of the time. In Harris County, which encompasses Houston and is the most populous county in the state, it was 99.6 percent.

This was foreseeable. Even some Republican officials were worried about mail-in ballot rejections ahead of the primary. Texas Secretary of State John Scott said during a February town hall that it was his “biggest concern” of this election cycle. In a statement Tuesday, Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for Scott, acknowledged the issues with mail-in ballots during the primaries and said his office is devoting a significant portion of its voter education efforts to the new ID requirements.”

“Voters whose mail-in ballots were flagged for rejection did have the opportunity to correct them to ensure that they were counted. But the process proved confusing and looked different depending on when the problem with a voter’s ID number was discovered.

“You can see all the different ways that this can go wrong. What if the ballot never gets back to the voter? Or they don’t see it and think it’s junk mail? Or they correct the number issue online but don’t realize they need to send the ballot back?” Slattery said.

For some voters, the process was just too arduous.

“A lot of voters get these letters of rejection, and they just don’t bother,” said Michele Valentino, a Democratic election judge in Dallas.

Some flaws can be expected when implementing a new system for the first time, but this bodes poorly considering how low turnout was relative to general elections: Fewer than 1 in 5 voters cast ballots in the primaries, which is higher than in the past six midterm primaries but still a lot lower than the roughly 46 percent of Texans who showed up for the last midterm general election in 2018.

“I can see this issue compounding and worsening as we reach the midterms this year,” said Jasleen Singh, counsel in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, where she focuses on voting rights and elections. “That there’s even this much hardship that voters are encountering at this stage is incredibly concerning and dangerous for democracy.”

The AP analysis showed a higher rate of rejections in Democratic than Republican counties (15.1% to 9.1%). That was also predictable: Voters of color typically bear the biggest burden from any restrictions on voting, and they make up a large share of many of those Democratic-leaning counties.”

Abbott’s border policy cost the U.S. almost $9 billion in just 10 days

“Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s short-lived policy of requiring state troopers to conduct secondary inspections of trucks crossing into Texas from Mexico cost the United States almost $9 billion in just 10 days, Axios reported Tuesday.

The policy, which Abbott enacted on April 6, snarled truck traffic at the border and led to a protest by Mexican truckers that stopped trade at some major crossings. On April 15, Abbott ended the double inspections, for which he’d received withering criticism from both sides of the border and the aisle, after striking deals with the governors of the four Mexican states that border Texas.

Per Axios, Abbott implemented the policy “in response to the Biden administration’s announcement that it would lift Title 42,” a Trump-era public health policy that denied migrants entry into the United States.

An analysis by the Perryman Group showed that the U.S. lost an estimated $8.97 billion in GDP due to delays at the border, while Texas alone lost $4.23 billion.”

Greg Abbott Has Used Migrants as Political Pawns Again and Again. Now, He Says He’ll Bus Them to Capitol Hill.

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has long held that his state is facing an “invasion,” which consists of thousands of migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico over the Rio Grande. Now, in an attempt to resist “the Biden open border policies” he claims are endangering Texans and compromising national security, Abbott is prepared to implement a policy that drew scrutiny as soon as he announced it.

“To help local officials whose communities are being overwhelmed by hordes of illegal immigrants,” said Abbott, “Texas is providing charter buses to send these illegal immigrants who have been dropped off by the Biden administration to Washington, D.C.””

“immigration advocates and those with a passing respect for individual rights pointed out that Abbott’s proposal, as stated, is both immoral and illegal. Transporting migrants across state lines against their will “sounds dangerously close to federal felony kidnapping,” argued Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Council. Further, Title 8 of U.S. Code Section 1324(a) states that “any person who…knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise…shall be punished.”

Perhaps those snags are why the governor’s office has since softened its tone on busing migrants north. A press release published after the press conference stressed that “a migrant must volunteer to be transported” in order to board a bus or flight to Washington, D.C.”

“the new busing policy sits atop a heap of misguided, expensive, and dubiously legal initiatives the governor has undertaken in order to keep migrants out of his state—people who have the right under U.S. immigration law to seek asylum in Texas.

This policy comes from the man who proposed building a border wall of his own after former President Donald Trump’s never came to fruition. Abbott’s project, which is ongoing, ran into many of the same issues as Trump’s—exorbitant costs, tension between federal and state jurisdiction, and the need for egregious eminent domain claims in order to get the job done (not to mention a lack of widespread support). “The elected officials in border communities don’t support [Abbott’s] plans,” American Civil Liberties Union of Texas attorney David Donatti told Reason last year.

The governor’s border-securing mission—Operation Lone Star—has been similarly fraught. While Abbott and other state officials bragged about “more than 11,000 criminal arrests, drug seizures that amount to millions of ‘lethal doses,'” and tens of thousands of undocumented immigrant referrals to the federal government for deportation, watchdogs reported “arrests of U.S. citizens hundreds of miles from the border,” “claiming drug busts from across the state,” and changing statistics and metrics of success, according to The Texas Tribune. Several Texas National Guard soldiers stationed at the border committed suicide during the operation, while dozens more criticized the mission’s execution in an internal survey. With its spotty track record, the still-active Operation Lone Star costs taxpayers more than $2.5 million each week.

With that background in mind, it isn’t surprising that Abbott would opt for a blusterous anti-migrant spectacle that comes at the expense of Texas taxpayers and neglects any humanitarian or legal obligations to asylum seekers.”

Texas Classifies Medical Treatment of Trans Minors as Abuse, Threatens Parents, Orders Caregivers To Snitch

“Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has declared all medical treatment of transgender minors to be child abuse and says that his office could prosecute parents of transgender children, as well as “mandatory reporters” who fail to report medical treatment of transgender children to the state. In tandem, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has urged state officials to begin investigating any families that may be giving their trans kids puberty-blocking drugs or hormones, or allowing them to undergo surgical treatments.”

“Paxton’s argues that helping a child transition can cause them physical and psychological damage and that it deprives the child of the “right to procreation.” Essentially, Paxton is borrowing from the argument against forced sterilization, which he references, as an argument against voluntary trans medical treatment.
However, no one believes that any child—or adult—should be exposed to these treatments against their own wishes. To the extent that minors in Texas are receiving medical treatment for trans issues, it is likely because they requested it. Meanwhile, physicians in the U.S. are largely aligned behind the idea that sex reassignment surgery should not take place until a patient is 18.

But Paxton’s policy announcement is not meant to prevent surgeries that mostly are not happening. He’s also going after the use of puberty-blocking drugs and hormone treatments, which do begin when transgender patients are still minors, and the effects are more easily reversed. Drug therapy is not equivalent to surgery, and it appears Paxton has lumped them together in order to confuse the issue and undermine the legitimacy of any kind of transgender health care.”

“What about the rights of patients? And of parents? Paxton’s memo argues that the Texas “Legislature has not provided any avenue for parental consent, and no judicial avenue exists for the child to proceed with these procedures and treatments without parental consent.”

Apparently, it’s impossible to consent to your child receiving medical care without the Texas Legislature passing a new law. That’s an interesting version of conservatism.”