East Texans hold power for energy — and who controls it

East Texas is the cradle of power production in Texas because behind the pines lie many of the natural resources the state has to offer. We have the water for hydroelectric power, and the coal for those plants — thankfully disappearing — has come largely from beneath our soil. East Texas natural gas wells have fueled the gas-fired plants.

This has changed slightly with the advent of wind power but even with all the whirring turbines you see in West Texas, the impact is still less than 5% of the total energy production on most days. Some days it is significantly less.

The power that drives most of this state still has its origins in East Texas.

Power plants of every kind have an expected life, after which they become too inefficient to use.

Most of the power plants in East Texas are old and already beyond that “best by” date. Engineers for the power companies have done all they can to keep them operational.

Power plants are expensive, and the parent companies are desperate to find ways to avoid building ones. This makes plants vulnerable to problems.

Lignite coal may be the worst fuel devised for a modern power plant. The East Texas deposits are of such poor quality that coal actually has to be brought in by rail from Wyoming so it will burn hot enough and clean enough to use. The coal cars trek through Longview on a regular basis.

There’s been no move to require power companies to improve their facilities, either by helping them or requiring them to do so. While accountability for power producers has been addressed through SB2 and 3, requiring physical improvements to plants remains unseen. 

Meanwhile, power companies receive special advantages — such as a guaranteed profit — without requiring enough in return to secure our power grid. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have been receiving money from Vistra Corporation — the largest power supplier in Texas — for years. In the last year, Abbott received $50,000 from the corporation, which is the parent company of Luminant Energy and TXU Electric. 

Power producers are closely aligned with the oil companies and every phase of industry that digs and drills our East Texas resources. This is partly tied to environmental policies. Republicans are more relaxed when it comes to restricting energy companies — but this relationship comes at a cost. 

What does this mean for East Texas residents? If the grid fails, residents of the middle class and below are going to feel it more substantially and have fewer resources to deal with it. They will be less likely to replace a freezer-full of food, less likely to have the insurance to mitigate the damage and be less capable to find alternatives, such as checking the family into a hotel room to ride out the failure.

Certainly, all the protection from a grid failure cannot fall solely on producers, or power generators would simply leave the market. Still, the liabilities for consumers have been lopsided for years and remain so. 

Will East Texas voters take notice?

After all, they live in the heart of the state’s richest sources of power.

Phil Latham has been an East Texas journalist for more than 45 years as a reporter, editor, publisher and editorial page editor. He writes a weekly column available at https://platham56.wixsite.com/website. He has also written two novels. Readers can contact Phil at [email protected]. He lives in Smith County with his wife and three pups.

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