Conservation urged as searing heat wave continues
Texas’ power grid reported record electricity use early last week. Both the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas are urging residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce electricity use as temperatures soar above100 degrees over much of the state. So far the grid, which administers 90% of the state’s power load, has been able to keep up with demand.
Temperatures set record highs for June in several Texas cities: 111 degrees in Junction, 115 in Laredo, and 113 in Del Rio. The heat wave stretches from the Pecos River Valley in the west to the Rio Grande in the south to the Pineywoods in the east. State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon pointed to several factors, including near-record temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, a high-pressure system trapping the heat over the state, and climate change.
“Texas is running about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it did during the 20th century,” Nielsen-Gammon told the Texas Tribune. “So if you’re close to a temperature record, that will put it over the edge.”
ERCOT has implemented a voluntary curtailment program for so-called flexible customers — such as bitcoin mining facilities — to reduce power use during periods of high demand.
“These customers are large power users but have the flexibility and willingness to reduce their energy use quickly, if needed. By working with these large loads during peak demand periods, we will better serve all Texans while keeping the grid reliable and resilient,” said Woody Rickerson of ERCOT.
Storms spur spate of disaster declarations
Storm systems have caused widespread damage across the state and prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to issue disaster declarations for Ochiltree, Cass, Franklin, Harrison, Marion, Upshur, Wood, Camp, Gregg, Hopkins, Panola, Smith and Titus counties. The storms caused loss of life, severe damage to power lines and structures, and flash flooding.
A subsequent declaration came after a tornado hit Matador in West Texas and killed four people. That declaration covers Motley, Nolan, Fisher, Jones, Kent, and Stonewall counties. Just days earlier a tornado killed three and injured dozens in Perryton in the Texas Panhandle.
“What Texans in Perryton have gone through over the past couple of days have been nothing short of horrific,” Abbott said. “At the same time, it’s encouraging and inspiring to see the way the community has come together to rebuild.”
Hope rises for breaking
An impasse over property tax relief appears to be near an end after the Senate unanimously passed a package that would cut both homeowners’ property taxes and taxes on thousands of businesses by a record $18 billion, the Austin American-Statesman reported. At the same time, House Speaker Dade Phelan appointed a select committee to provide “recommendations for long-term, sustainable” relief.
The first special session called by Abbott ends this week, making it likely a second session will follow. The Senate bill would raise the homestead exemption to $100,000, with an additional $40,000 exemption for homeowners 65 and older. The franchise tax on businesses would further exempt an estimated 67,000 small businesses.
Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have feuded over which version of the property tax bills should ultimately prevail, with Abbott backing a House plan passed on the first day of the special session.
tries to defy comptroller over Paxton’s pay
The Texas attorney general’s office attempted to continue paying impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was suspended pending a Senate trial set for Sept. 5. The Dallas Morning News obtained communications between the attorney general’s chief of staff and the Texas comptroller’s office, regarding Paxton’s paycheck for June.
“Simply put, it is unclear that the CPA (Comptroller of Public Accounts) has authority to withhold AG Paxton’s salary under these circumstances,” Lesley French, office chief of staff wrote in an email to the director of the comptroller’s fiscal management division on Wednesday, The News reported.
Paxton is accused of bribery, obstruction of justice and abuse of office — allegations he has denied.
The comptroller’s office has oversight over the state’s expenditures, and officials there noted money is appropriated for only one attorney general. After Paxton’s suspension, former Secretary of State John Scott was appointed the interim attorney general and is now leading the office.
The attorney general’s position pays $153,700 annually.
Latinos now make up biggest share of state’s population
In new population estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos now make up the largest share of the state’s population and have since at least July 2022. The bureau reported Hispanic Texans made up 40.2 percent of the total, edging out non-Hispanic white Texans, who made up 39.8 percent, the Texas Tribune reported.
Hispanic Texans are expected to make up a majority of the state’s population in the decades to come. Recent census estimates indicate 49.3% of the state’s residents under 18 are Hispanic.
ERCOT can’t be sued, high court rules
The Texas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that ERCOT, which operates the state’s power grid, is a government entity and is immune to lawsuits resulting from Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. The 5-4 ruling reversed a previous judgment from a Dallas appeals court, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, writing for the majority, said it should be immune to suits because “it prevents the disruption of key governmental services, protects public funds, and respects separation of powers principles.”
ERCOT is the nation’s only power grid contained wholly within a single state.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.