AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In a Tuesday briefing about the upcoming arctic blast, Gov. Greg Abbott said he cannot guarantee the power will stay on throughout Texas.
When asked by reporters what the benchmark of success will be during this storm, the governor said it’s obviously “to make sure that the lights stay on.”
“No one can guarantee that there won’t be a ‘load shed event,'” Abbott said after being pressed further by reporters. “But what we will work and strive to achieve and what we’re prepared to achieve is that the power is gonna stay on across the entire state.”
Some were quick to criticize the Republican governor’s remarks, saying it’s a change in messaging from a few months ago when he guaranteed “the lights will stay on,” in an interview with Fox 7 Austin. This was later reiterated by the state’s most powerful officials overseeing the electric grid, in an early December press conference.
Load shedding occurs when there’s too much demand on the electric grid and operators need to force some of the load off, resulting in rolling blackouts or even power being shut off altogether — like what we saw in the 2021 winter storm.
But is Abbott saying he cannot guarantee no load-shedding occurs different from promising to keep the lights on? It’s a bit complicated.
If grid operators do have to shed load this week and true rolling blackouts are implemented as a result, the lights and power will still be on…but only for a few hours at a time.
However, if rolling blackouts occur and are more permanent and long-lasting like what Texas saw statewide last year, then the governor’s promise to keep the lights on could be seen as broken.
Not only does the timing of this winter advisory come as political winds are strong in the leadup to the Texas primaries, but also near the anniversary of the devastating 2021 polar vortex that killed hundreds of Texans. Abbott’s leading Democratic opponent, former congressman Beto O’Rourke, has already been quick to criticize the governor’s rhetoric and handling of the grid.
Starting Friday, O’Rourke is kicking off his ‘Keeping the Lights On’ campaign stump across Texas, where he will hold events with voters to sharply condemn what he views as Abbott’s leadership failure before, during and after the 2021 storm.
“Abbott failed to prepare us for a completely preventable disaster, and then failed to make changes that would protect us from the next extreme weather event,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “It’s long-overdue that Texans have a government that works for, and is accountable to, everyone in this state. That’s why I’m launching a 12 day, 2,100-mile drive to meet with Texans who bore the brunt of Abbott’s power grid failure. I’ll learn from those who stepped up to lead when their governor refused to, and I’ll lay out the steps I’ll take to keep the lights on.”
Abbott’s campaign has already fired back, dubbing it as a ‘Praying the Lights Go Out’ tour in mockery.
“While Beto is traversing the state rooting for the pain and suffering of fellow Texans, Governor Abbott has been working to strengthen the grid with the PUC, ERCOT, and the Legislature to ensure Texas remains a national leader in energy,” said Renae Eze, an Abbott campaign spokesperson.
This upcoming ice storm will likely be the first big test of changes the legislature made in winterizing the electric grid — something Abbott and energy leaders expressed confidence in, but remains to be seen.