Clean energy is taking over the Texas grid. State officials are trying to stop it.

“Clean energy is rapidly rising on the Texas power grid, but regulators in the Lone Star State are now considering a plan that could give fossil fuels a boost.
The zero greenhouse gas emissions trio — wind, solar, and nuclear energy — provided more than 40 percent of electricity in the state in 2022. It was a year when several Texas cities experienced their hottest summers on record, driving electricity demand to its highest levels ever as fans and air conditioners switched on. Winter proved stressful too, with freezing temperatures last month pushing winter electricity peaks to record-high levels, narrowly avoiding outages.”

“Texas leads the US in oil and natural gas production, but it’s also number one in wind power. Solar production in the state has almost tripled in the past three years. Part of the reason is that Texas is particularly suited to renewable energy on its grid. Wind turbines and solar panels in Texas have a high degree of “complementarity,” so shortfalls in one source are often matched by increases in another, smoothing out power production and reducing the need for other generators to step in. That has eased the integration of intermittent energy sources on the grid.

Coal, meanwhile, has lost more than half of its share in Texas since 2006. For a long time and across much of the country, the story was that cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing was eating coal’s lunch on the power grid. Coal was also facing tougher environmental regulations like stricter limits on mercury, requiring coal power plants to upgrade their equipment, and raising electricity production costs.”

“in Texas, natural gas’s share of the electricity mix has been holding around 40 percent for more than a decade. On the other hand, renewable energy has surged as coal withered. Wind alone started beating out coal in 2019 and is now the second-largest source of electricity behind natural gas in the state.

An important factor is that the state has its own internal power grid, serving 26 million customers and meeting 90 percent of its electricity demand. It’s managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. In the freewheeling Texas energy market, the cheapest sources of electricity become dominant, and wind and solar — with low construction costs, rapid build times, and zero fuel expenses — have emerged as winners.”

“Some lawmakers are now working to tilt the balance toward fossil fuels. “There are different political figures who are trying to incentivize gas power plants or deny, prohibit, or inhibit renewables,” Webber said.

Last year, the Texas legislature passed a law that would prevent the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that “boycott” fossil fuels.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said one of his legislative priorities for this year is to secure more support for natural gas-fired generation. “We have to level the playing field so that we attract investment in natural gas plants,” Patrick said during a press conference last November. “We can’t leave here next spring unless we have a plan for more natural gas power.””

“While wind and solar power are ascendant, they are intermittent, and regulators want to make sure there is enough dispatchable power like natural gas to ramp up on still, cloudy days. The new proposal would create a credit scheme that would encourage more of these dispatchable plants to come online and extend a lifeline to some existing generators that are struggling to compete. But it would also raise the costs of electricity production.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club noted that the proposal leaves the door open for other tactics for balancing electricity supply and demand, like energy storage, increasing energy efficiency, and demand response.”

From Texas border, New York mayor vows to pressure U.S. government over migrants

“The city spent $366 million on services for asylum seekers last year, and Adams expects that sum to rise to $2 billion through June. Thus far, New York City has received just $8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $2 million from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“This is a national crisis. FEMA deals with national crises. FEMA must step up, and there should be one coordinator to coordinate everything that is happening dealing with migrants and asylum seekers in our country,” Adams said.”

This Court Case Could Make It a Crime To Be a Journalist in Texas

“At the core of Villarreal’s misfortune is a Texas law that allows the state to prosecute someone who obtains nonpublic information from a government official if he or she does so “with intent to obtain a benefit.” Villarreal operates her popular news-sharing operation on Facebook, where her page, Lagordiloca News, has amassed 200,000 followers as of this writing.
So to jail Villarreal, police alleged that she ran afoul of that law when she retrieved information from Laredo Police Department Officer Barbara Goodman and proceeded to publish those two aforementioned stories, because she potentially benefited by gaining more Facebook followers. Missing from that analysis is that every journalist, reporter, or media pundit has an “intent to benefit” when she or he publishes a story, whether it is to attract viewers, readers, or subscribers. Soliciting information from government officials—who, as Villarreal’s case exemplifies, sometimes feed reporters information—is called a “scoop,” and it’s not new.

Yet it was an argument that, in some sense, resonated with Judge Priscilla Richman, the chief jurist on the 5th Circuit, who almost certainly voted in favor of reconsidering the court’s ruling. “In fact, Villareal’s [sic] Complaint says that she ‘sometimes enjoys a free meal from appreciative readers, . . . occasionally receives fees for promoting a local business [and] has used her Facebook page [where all of her reporting is published] to ask for donations for new equipment necessary to continue her citizen journalism efforts,” she wrote in August, rebuking Ho’s conclusion. “With great respect, the majority opinion is off base in holding that no reasonably competent officer could objectively have thought that Villareal [sic] obtained information from her back-door source within the Laredo Police Department with an ‘intent to benefit.'”

Such an interpretation would render the media industry an illegal operation, and everyone who participates—whether they be conservative, liberal, far-left, far-right, or anything in-between—criminals. “Other journalists are paid full salaries by their media outlets,” writes Ho. Can confirm. Is that somehow less consequential than receiving free lunch or getting a new spike of followers on a social media platform (which is something that many journalists employed full time also set out to do)? “In sum, it is a crime to be a journalist in Texas, thanks to the dissent’s reading of § 39.06(c),” Ho adds.”

How Republicans rigged Texas’s federal courts against Biden

“One of the biggest impediments to President Joe Biden’s ability to govern is a small crew of Republican-appointed federal trial judges, all of whom sit in Texas.
In August of 2021, for example, a Trump-appointed judge named Matthew Kacsmaryk ordered the Biden administration to reinstate a Trump-era immigration policy, known as “Remain in Mexico,” which forced many migrants to live in awful conditions on the Mexican side of the US/Mexico border. Although the Supreme Court eventually determined that Kacsmaryk egregiously misread federal immigration law, it left his order in place for nearly a year — and the Court’s most recent decision concerning Remain in Mexico makes it very easy for Kacsmaryk to seize control of federal border policy once again.”

” This one Trump judge’s ability to override an elected president’s policies and assume the powers of a Cabinet secretary is just one aspect of a much larger problem. With the Supreme Court’s tacit blessing, Texas officials and other right-wing litigants can handpick the trial judge who will hear their challenges to Biden administration policies. And when those handpicked judges overreach in ways that even this Supreme Court deems unacceptable, decisions by men like Kacsmaryk can remain in place for as much as a year — effectively replacing governance by an elected presidential administration with rule by unelected Republican judges.

In another, similar case, the Supreme Court allowed a Trump judge named Drew Tipton to temporarily strip Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of much of his authority over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is the same Drew Tipton who issued a legally dubious order six days after Biden took office, which blocked the Biden administration’s call for a 100-day pause on deportations while the new administration was figuring out its immigration policies.

And then there’s Judge Reed O’Connor, the Fort Worth, Texas, judge known for rubber stamping nearly any legal outcome requested by Republicans. O’Connor is best known for his order in Texas v. United States, holding that Obamacare must be repealed in its entirety. That decision was so poorly reasoned that seven justices — including four Republican appointees — eventually ruled that no federal judge had any business hearing Texas’s anti-Obamacare lawsuit in the first place.

But that experience did nothing to humble the Rubber Stamp of Fort Worth. In January, O’Connor forced the US Navy to deploy personnel that it deemed unfit for deployment because they are not vaccinated for Covid-19. The Supreme Court blocked most of O’Connor’s ruling in March, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing that the highly partisan judge “in effect inserted [himself] into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments.””

“The fact that all these cases — and this is just a sample of the many policy-setting lawsuits being shunted to a handful of the most conservative judges in Texas — are winding up before a few GOP-appointed judges is not a coincidence. It is a deliberate strategy, made possible by procedural rules that effectively allow litigants to select which judge will hear their lawsuits, and by all appearances, intentionally pursued by the Texas attorney general’s office.”

“the Biden administration’s policies are routinely blocked, not because an impartial judge gives those policies a fair hearing and determines them to be illegal, but because Republican litigants can ensure that lawsuits seeking to undermine President Biden are heard by some of the most partisan judges in the country.”

“the Texas AG’s office has not filed a single case in Austin — the city where that office is actually located — a choice that most likely can be explained by the fact that half of all federal cases filed in Austin are heard by Judge Robert Pitman, an Obama appointee.”

“Although the Supreme Court has, at times, disagreed with the judges Texas’s Republican leaders selected to hear their lawsuits, it’s done nothing to discourage the Texas AG’s judge-shopping. Indeed, if anything, it’s encouraged it.”

“If the courts want to solve the problem of judge-shopping, it would not be hard for them to do so. One solution is to apply the same rule to Texas’s anti-Biden litigation as the Western District of Texas now applies to patent litigation — if a party seeks an order blocking a federal policy, that case will be randomly assigned to any judge within the entire district court where it is filed, not just one in the smaller division.

Alternatively, a court could assign lawsuits seeking a nationwide injunction against a federal policy to a panel of three judges. That’s the solution Fifth Circuit Judge Gregg Costa proposed in a 2018 piece published by the Harvard Law Review’s blog.

In any event, the details of such a solution don’t matter all that much. The important thing is that litigants who are actively trying to sabotage the United States government should not be allowed to handpick judges who share their agenda. For the moment, however, the courts seem to lack the will to address this problem. Texas Republicans can shop around for the judges they want, and that seems to suit a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees just fine.”

Are Ron DeSantis’ Migrant Flights Legal?

“Two big legal questions are germane to the stunt: one relating to how migrants were induced to board flights and the other relating to using state funds. Legal experts, lawmakers, and the architects of the flights are now debating what was and wasn’t legally permissible about the scheme.
DeSantis, for his part, has said the migrant flights were “clearly voluntary.” Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, shared with Axios a redacted consent form for the flight. That form mentions a “final destination of Massachusetts” and holds “the benefactor or its designated representatives harmless of all liability” incurred during the journey, which it says is meant to transport the signatory “to locations in sanctuary States.”

Though much of the form is translated into Spanish, the mention of Massachusetts as the final destination is not. The only mention of Massachusetts in the Spanish portion of the redacted document is a handwritten abbreviation: “MA.”

Three of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard filed a lawsuit against DeSantis..alleging that Florida officials “made false promises and false representations” that if they “were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.” The lawsuit notes that a woman “gathered several dozen people…to sign a document in order to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card.” Per the suit, the woman didn’t explain what the consent form said. Migrants interviewed by NPR also explained that the same woman promised they would be flown to Boston and receive expedited work papers if they boarded the flights in San Antonio.

With this background in mind, some commentators have suggested the flight scheme may have run afoul of Texas law. Under title 5, chapter 20 of the Texas penal code, the crime of “unlawful restraint,” or restricting someone’s movement without consent, includes actions that involve “force, intimidation, or deception.” An unlawful restraint offense is a misdemeanor, except when the victim is under 17 years old—then it’s a state jail felony. At least some of the migrants DeSantis sent to Martha’s Vineyard were children.

Legal experts surveyed by Politico suggested that federal criminal trafficking statutes weren’t relevant unless migrants were transported against their will. If coercion was involved, the legality becomes much murkier. “If someone is told, ‘Hey, get on the bus. We’re going to Chicago because we have a job for you’ and it’s not true, that person has been victimized,” said Steven Block, a Chicago lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney who dealt with trafficking and corruption cases.

The matter of state funds is at least slightly easier to distill. Florida’s 2021–2022 budget set aside $12,000,000 to implement “a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” Funds that weren’t spent in 2021–2022 rolled over to be used for the same purpose in 2022–2023. This is the pot through which DeSantis financed the Martha’s Vineyard flights, and the governor says he’ll spend “every penny” of it to “make sure that we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida.”

The 2022–2023 spending bill explicitly provides money for transporting migrants “from this state.” That would seem to indicate an origin in Florida. But the Martha’s Vineyard flights originated in San Antonio, which DeSantis acknowledges. Florida Democrats are now questioning whether this rendered the flights illegal. They are attempting to block funding for the relocation effort. A potential sticking point is that the flights were routed through Crestview, Florida, before reaching Martha’s Vineyard, ostensibly to refuel.

Geography aside, the migrants’ immigration status may also clash with the Florida budget language. State Sen. Aaron Bean (R–Jacksonville) stated in March that the relocation scheme wouldn’t apply to people who had requested asylum in the U.S. after fleeing communist or socialist countries since “they are here lawfully.” Further, the 2022–2023 budget specifies that the relocation scheme only applies to people who are “unlawfully present” in the country.

After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the migrants now suing DeSantis—all recent immigrants from Venezuela—turned themselves over to federal immigration officials, the lawsuit explains. Each has “active federal proceedings to adjudicate their immigration status,” which authorizes them to stay in the United States unless their immigration court proceedings determine otherwise.”

3 takeaways from Texas’s investigation of the Uvalde school shooting

“There’s only so much that schools can do to defend against a determined individual with access to guns. Militarizing public schools doesn’t foster a welcoming learning environment, nor is it particularly cost-effective for taxpayers.

“Installing bulletproof glass in all the windows — stuff like this is hideously expensive and not sensible. There’s only so far you can go to harden a public facility,” said Robert Spitzer, a professor at SUNY Cortland who studies the politics of gun control.

But a simple security upgrade could have made it harder for the shooter to enter the school: ensuring that the doors were locked. There were three exterior doors in the west building where the shooting took place, and all three had been left unlocked, according to the report. The door to one of the classrooms where the shooter took his victims was also known to have a faulty lock, but no one had created a work order to repair it. School staff also frequently propped doors open, especially for substitute teachers who didn’t have their own keys.”

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.”