How an obscure paperwork foulup left much of Texas in the cold during blackouts

·2 min read

Texas failed in all kinds of ways during the ice storm, but let’s talk about the most obvious.

Dozens of gas plants were lost during the storm because the owners didn’t fill our an obscure agency form.

Texas slipped within seconds of a near-complete statewide blackout lasting into March or April.

In part, that was because most West Texas gas compressor stations and pipelines were never listed as “critical” priority customers to keep power, the same way as hospitals or 911 centers.

In a state with more than 1,000 public employees overseeing the energy industry, not a single one was assigned to double-check whether gas plants filled out their electricity paperwork.

Absolutely nobody in Texas was checking to make sure energy facilities kept power.

I would normally say, “Welcome to small government.” But in this case, the 2011 federal report after the last big ice storm specifically told Texas’ giant alphabet soup of energy agencies to get this fixed.

Our problem isn’t small government.

It’s lazy government.

This Texas-sized flub came up in Capitol hearings last month. But with the state’s energy agencies in complete collapse, it didn’t get much attention until the Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune did in-depth reports last week.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, made the point about the missing paperwork to a pipeline company lawyer in a Senate hearing last month.

“It’s not like you just came into existence,” Hancock said.

The business has been around a while. And yet, you just learned about a form.”

Blame the companies. But also blame the Texas Railroad Commission, the very industry-friendly agency regulating oil and gas,

Had inspectors seen to it that pipeline companies’ filed an “Application for Critical Load Serving Natural Gas-Fired Electric Generation” with a simple address and contact information, that would have kept gas moving to power plants.

The chief executive of Dallas-based Oncor, Allen Nye, told lawmakers his company had to hustle to restore power to 168 unidentified gas facilities in the Permian Basin alone after blackouts began in the early hours of Feb. 15. (Only 35 facilities had registered.)

Nye told lawmakers Oncor had no way to know where the gas facilities were.

“They’ve gotta tell me,” he said, or the power companies do.

The chief executive of energy giant Vistra Corp., parent of TXU Energy, told lawmakers it was a frantic scramble.

“You-know-what hit the fan,” Curtis Morgan said, “and everybody’s going, ‘You’re turning off my power plant?’’ “

With every day, it becomes clearer that Texas lawmakers have no idea how to fix the state’s grossly balkanized system of energy regulatory agencies.

Here’s an idea for starters:

Put somebody in charge of forms.