The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 3, 2011

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Reading this on a device tethered to an electrical outlet? Thank your lucky stars. Also, thank Mexico.

The coldest weather Texas has recorded in over a decade swept through the state Tuesday night, forcing rolling blackouts that left hundreds of thousands of Texans — including schools and businesses — intermittently without power on Wednesday. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which controls the state's electric grid, ordered the blackouts after freezing temperatures knocked out generators that would have provided 12 percent of the day's projected demand. The exact cause of the failures remains unclear, but signs point to a simple lack of preparedness in power plants for such weather rather than a higher-than-expected electricity demand.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a statement that if ERCOT couldn't bring enough power back online Wednesday night, power outages could continue through Thursday. ERCOT requested Texans to conserve electricity Wednesday night and from 6 to 9 a.m. this morning. (The Brief, however, must go on.)

 

News also came Wednesday night that Mexico would be helping to fulfill some of the state's electric needs. The country's Federal Electricity Commission said it would transmit 280 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 56,000 households during the winter — to Texas between Wednesday and Thursday night.

"We are working with every tool we have to bring as much power on the system we can," said Public Utility Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, according to The Dallas Morning News. "We would continue to ask Texans to conserve energy … as we battle this extraordinarily cold weather."

CULLED:

  • Emotional testimony from advocates dominated a Senate Finance Committee hearing on health care budget cuts Wednesday. "I’ve never seen the [level of] concern by your presence today. It will make a difference," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, of the patients, patients, nurses and doctors who pleaded for lawmakers to pass them up when slashing from the budget. At the hearing, committee chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, also floated the idea of using the Texas Enterprise Fund — which encourages economic development through subsidies but has faced criticism among some lawmakers — to support a San Antonio charity that serves the homeless.
  • And while we're talking electricity: One state senator, Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, wants to cut school districts' electric bills by 20 percent to help them avert major layoffs as the state looks to cut billions of dollars from public education. The move could potentially save 60 jobs in the Fort Worth school district alone, says the Star-Telegram.

"Things would have gone a lot smoother. I was one of those people who at 6:45 this morning was looking in the mirror when the power went out and didn't know why." — Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who said he would have liked to have received better warnings from the state's grid operator about the rolling blackouts Wednesday

MUST-READ:

 

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