Commissioner Adrian Garcia Proposes Initiatives to Strengthen Grid

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia (center) with Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo and Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Harris County: Commissioners Court discussed an item brought forth by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to consider what county actions are available to respond to the widely acknowledged failures of the Public Utility Commission of Texas that led to dozens of lives being lost.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the number of deaths from the freeze and widespread power outages that followed will surpass those attributed to Hurricane Harvey.

After lengthy discussion and emotional testimony by victims, community advocates, and elected leaders, Commissioners Court voted to approve the following:

Resolution calling for all members of all members of the Public Utility Commission including Chairwoman Walker to resign from office.

Cooperation with the upcoming Federal Investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the causes of the widespread blackouts.

Authorizing the County Attorney’s Office to act in opportunities to strengthen connections with grids outside ERCOT.

Support for bills to be filed in the Texas Legislature that would prevent another Texas grid failure and/or exploring the benefits and consequences of dismantling of the state’s go-it-alone approach

Commissioner Adrian Garcia issued the following statement:

“Texas state leaders have made a practice of keeping Texans in the dark – and two weeks ago, those actions turned deadly. When half of Harris County was without power or heat for days at a time, Harris County families were forced to endure nightmarish conditions or huddle with neighbors to escape the deadly conditions. Similarly, during the freeze, our neighbors to both the north and east found themselves connected to a working grid, one that experienced far fewer problems. Asking questions and investigating whether we could do the same makes sense. After a career as a first responder, working to save lives is part of my DNA. This crisis has led us to conversations that are long overdue. I thank the hundreds of Harris County residents that reached out to my office, the dozens of industry leaders who called to offer help, and my fellow county officeholders for helping us devise innovative strategies to keep the lights on. Even when the state refuses to show leadership, local officials always take the lead on recovery. If there are ways we can be proactive to keep people safe, we will always have the courage to act on them.”

The five members of Harris County Commissioners Court on Monday agreed that February’s blackouts affecting more than 1.4 million county residents during sub-freezing temperatures should not have happened.

They agreed the deaths of more than 40 Houston-area residents linked to outages could have been prevented and took turns expressing anger over the suffering their constituents had to endure.

The quintet could not, however, agree on who to blame for the disaster. The dispute was settled along familiar partisan lines, with the three Democrats passing a broad resolution rebuking state leaders for failing to ensure the state’s main power grid could operate in cold weather. It also expressed support for any federal investigations into what happened.

“What happened last week may have been unprecedented, but it wasn’t unanticipated,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “The lack of action by the state will cost us billions in economic damage.”

The resolution, proposed by Garcia, notes that a federal report on the 2011 Texas blackouts caused by a winter storm recommended the state winterize its energy infrastructure to prevent a repeat of that incident. Two key state regulators, the Texas Railroad Commission and Public Utility Commission, failed to do so, the resolution says. — Addditional reporting from Zach Despart, Houston Chronicle.