“Power Failure” Back Stage column

Power Failure

Feb. 25, 2021


Backstage By Liz Adams

“Backstage” headlines are based on song titles appropriate to the topics of the week’s current events. Music is one of the ways we record and collect our thoughts on history and the column often comes from a sense of touring for observation. 

Though some of the song titles are easily recognized, others, like this one, may be more obscure. Procol Harum rockers Gary Brooker and Keith Reid sparked some interesting but probably long forgotten discussions among fans about the 1971 album “Broken Barricades” with the “live” recording of the song “Power Failure” on the B side that wasn’t actually live.

Since the song was supposedly about the literal loss of electricity to the organ during a live show, drummer B.J. Wilson was left to carry the performance. But the song offers a more poetic interpretation with lyrics like “falling over burning chairs.” Maybe they meant furniture, though it has been pointed out that a ‘chair’ is also a leadership position. It works on both levels. 

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From backstage last week, I watched as news outlets reported that over four million Texans were left without heat when temperatures dropped below freezing. Icy roads, power outages and water leaks made for hazardous conditions throughout other parts of the state. 

But for very few exceptions, the power here was on. City governments, school districts, and organizations worked together with citizens to conserve energy. Customers in Guthrie, Paducah, Turkey, Silverton, Matador, Roaring Springs, Dickens, Spur, Floydada, and Lockney are on the Texas grid that supplies power to ninety percent of the state. Some are in the Southwest Power Pool. Either way, we were generally warm and safe, while our public employees and local elected officials made sure we had clean water. 

From Floyd to Cottle, judges, county commissioners and sheriffs all rose to the occasion and displayed effective leadership. Mayors, city managers, city secretaries, city council members, and public works and sanitation crews demonstrated great teamwork to protect everyone. No power failure there.  

The Texas Department of Transportation kept Highway 86 clear and safe to drive. Business owners pitched in. The water leaks got fixed. That’s power to the people.  

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Although this particular pair of storms was more extreme than others in the state’s history, Gov. Greg Abbott has had opportunities to learn from one crisis after another. His own appointees on the Public Utility Commission oversee the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, yet he sneered they were “anything but reliable” and called for resignations. 

Frankly, ERCOT had been warned. They knew the Texas power grid needed to be improved, but ERCOT doesn’t require the power plants to maintain or protect their pipes and equipment. They can’t enforce regulations that don’t exist.

Where these outcomes were preventable was in the Texas legislature. The policy makers decided not to require the winterization and modernization that every other state in the U.S. does.  

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw, and Ag Commissioner Sid Miller want you to believe that wind farms (which are prominent in this region and only expected to contribute about 7% of the state’s power in winter) are to blame for leaving Texans in the cold. Others, like ERCOT senior director Dan Woodfin, say the culprit is natural gas, which underperformed only because well-understood prerequisites for operation in the cold were not met. All energy sources were less accessible due to frozen pipes. 

As Attorney General Ken Paxton recently pointed out when natural disaster struck California, the responsibility for this debacle rests squarely on the state’s politicians. They lied to fuel agendas instead of homes.

But the government works for you at every level. When state leaders disregard your safety, the result is, indeed, a power failure.

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