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Energy & Environment

Gov. Abbott promised last fall that 'the lights will stay on.' Now he says there's no guarantee.

Energy meters at an apartment complex in Travis Heights during last February's winter storm.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Tuesday that there's no guarantee there won't be local power outages during this week's winter weather.

Lee esta historia en español.

The coldest weather of the year is expected to arrive in Texas on Wednesday, and it brings with it plenty of anxiety over the condition of the state’s power grid.

State leaders on Tuesday tried to reassure the public that the grid is ready. But Gov. Greg Abbott appeared to backtrack on an earlier promise that there would be no interruptions to people's electricity supply this winter.

"No one can guarantee that there won’t be a load shed event," the governor said in response to a question about how he would measure the success of the electric grid. “But what we will work and strive to achieve and what we are prepared to achieve is that the power will stay on across the entire state.”

A “load shed event” is technical jargon for what is often referred to as a planned blackout. That’s when a grid operator cuts power to certain people, usually to stabilize supply and demand on the system.

It’s hard to argue with Abbott’s statement. Without a crystal ball, no one can say with 100% certainty that a blackout will not happen.

The thing is, Abbott did just that last fall.

“I can guarantee the lights will stay on,” he said in an interview with Fox 7’s Rudy Koski in November.

That promise, down to the exact wording, was later repeated by Peter Lake, the head of the state’s Public Utility Commission, an agency Abbott has been in close communication with over messaging.

“The lights will stay on,” Lake said in a joint news conference with Brad Jones, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Before his comments about “load shed” Tuesday, the governor had already made it clear not all lights will stay on.

There are reasons why there may be power outages,” he said at the start of the news conference. “It could be ice on trees that causes a tree to fall on power lines and cause the power line to go down.”

Such cases of local power interruptions “have nothing to do with the power grid whatsoever," he said.

The governor’s desire to reframe expectations may come from the fear that he will be held responsible for local outages in an election year.

“There are always some blackouts,” The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey said in an interview with KUT last week. “So, you know, it depends on how closely people are going to hold him to that [promise] ‘I guarantee there will be no blackouts.’”

Regardless of the politics behind the governor’s statements, representatives of ERCOT and many independent grid analysts remain confident that a statewide blackout is highly unlikely during this week’s freeze.

The cold weather, while expected to be severe, will not come close in strength, duration or area of land covered to last February’s winter storm.

KUT has reached out to the governor’s office for clarification of his statement, but has not yet heard back.

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