Democratic candidate for governor, Beto O’ Rourke set Tyler as a stop for his “Keeping The Lights On” tour where he spoke with supporters on the one-year anniversary of the winter storm that crippled the state’s power grid system in 2021. This stop on Feb. 8 was part of his 2,100 mile drive to 20 cities across Texas.
O’ Rourke is running for Texas governor against incumbent Greg Abbott. He also narrowly lost the 2018 Texas senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz, one of the closest races the state has seen in decades, according to The Texas Tribune.
O’ Rourke is using this tour to shed light on his platform and talk with voters about current issues with the state’s power grid and proposed solutions if he is elected.
First, he wants to “winterize” the state’s natural gas supply. “It will literally save the lives of people in this state, and the economy of the people who work in it,” O’ Rourke said. He claimed that it is already a practice in colder climate areas of the world, “it’s just a matter of political will.”
Winterizing is essentially preparing the infrastructure within natural gas plants to withstand freezing temperatures. Temporarily enclosing pipes and generators to keep heat during the winter and removed to keep cool during the summer is an example of such, according to The Texas Tribune.
He proposes connecting the state’s power grid system with the rest of the country. By doing this, O’ Rourke said, it can bring massive economic gains to the state. “When demand outstrips capacity, we can draw down electrons from the rest of the country,” he said. “Because we are an energy producing state, when we are producing more than we have demand for, we can sell it out on to the rest of the nation’s market.” A move he said, “just makes economic sense.”
Selling power is a common practice within other states on the grid. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity generation exceeds consumption in 25 states, and that excess electricity is transmitted across state lines. Almost 10% of U.S. electricity generation is traded among states.
He stressed holding energy companies, whom he accused of profiting off the suffering of Texans during the storm, accountable. O’Rourke also believes those who paid higher rates as a consequence of the storm should be reimbursed. “They made $11 billion, because they could charge the electricity provider here in Smith County whatever the market would bear,” O’ Rourke said. “We’re going to go after them in court, we’re going to sue them under the statute, we’re going to recover those funds and return them to you.”
The $11 billion are estimates made by BloomberNEF analysts Jade Patterson and Nakul Nair, according to Fortune.com. Broken down, the cost of gas was about $8.1 billion, and a further $3 billion spent by utility companies.
He also addressed the need for communication between local governments, specifically to protect important infrastructure in the case of another widespread event.
“We had critical infrastructure and facilities that shut down because we were not talking between Austin and other parts of the state,” he said, “so returning some level of local control and local respect and developing trust between local leaders and state government is critical for us to get Texas on the right track.”
O’ Rourke took numerous stabs at Abbott, saying he and the state legislature did not do enough to help the people of Texas during the freeze. He claims they received numerous warning signs about the vulnerability in the state’s grid, and ultimately ignored them. He cites previous weather incidents as an example of a pattern of lack of accountability. “Starting in 2011, when we had a similar challenge to our grid, and again, in 2014, those in positions of power were warned about the vulnerabilities underlying our ability to keep the lights on, literally, in the state of Texas and ladies and gentlemen, they did absolutely nothing with that information to protect the people of Texas.”
Among the power grid, O’ Rourke also spoke with supporters over other issues on his platform, from bringing down costs of higher education to lowering property taxes in Texas communities.
He proposed the government fully pay for higher education costs for students entering programs geared toward what he called “in-demand professions” like nursing and teaching. “If you’re willing to work in one of those in-demand professions in an underserved community, what if the state of Texas paid your entire higher education cost?” O’Rourke said. “Not only can you now afford to get that education; our communities are going to be the ultimate beneficiaries.”
O’ Rourke also walked back on previous comments suggesting the confiscation of assault rifles from gun owners during the presidential primary. “I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” he said, “so we’ll listen to law enforcement, follow this proud tradition of responsible gun ownership and defend the Second Amendment while protecting the lives of the people in the state.”
He capped off the event by highlighting how Tyler is just as important as any other part of the state. “Tyler does not get enough attention, doesn’t get enough resources, doesn’t get enough focus, and doesn’t get enough visits by those who are in positions of power or public trust,” O’ Rourke said, “and we can’t just say that. We need to show that and by showing up and meeting with so many great people today. I feel that this is the right thing to do.”