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KEYS News Blog Archives for 2022-08

Rage Against the Machine

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

 

I’ve known for awhile that it isn’t about right/left, Republican/Democrat, red/blue or conservative/progressive, though I have subscribed hugely to the populist/globalist polarity. But now I’m rethinking even that.

 

Now I think it boils down to this: there are people capable of pattern recognition and those who are not. Generally speaking, it is the leftists these days who corner the market on hypocrisy. One can only do that indignantly and with a straight face if a) one utterly lacks humor and irony and b) if one is totally incapable of pattern recognition.

 

This lack of pattern recognition makes Democrats in Harris county incapable of seeing an obvious pattern: “irregularities” (ie, botched) recent elections in Harris County that Lt. Gov. Patrick called “a disaster,” leading to the resignation of Elections Administrator Longoria, and the legal defiance of the Democratic run apparatus in that county suing the state of Texas for their upcoming election audit of Harris County elections.

 

It stinks like a beached catfish. Those of us capable of pattern recognition can see that hypocrisy is the order of the day, and that Houston is Texas’ Chicago. The politicos shifted election authority to an appointed figure and away from elected officials. They just changed the rules, like they do when they want to be able to manipulate election results. That’s also been a pattern we’ve recognized countrywide.

 

But, let’s face it, there is a political machine in Harris county almost as corrupt as Miami-Dade’s, and anyone with pattern recognition capability can see it. Anyone without cannot. Or is on the payroll.

 

Let’s not act surprised. Let’s not pretend that our sensibilities are offended by such a suggestion and that questioning election integrity is an act of insurrection. What a load of horse manure. After all, here we are in the state where LBJ pulled off the most brazen thievery of an election up to that point in U.S. history.” And then conspired to assassinate a sitting president. Buck up. We’re all adults here. Well, some of us, anyway.

 

Purportedly “legendary” Democratic operative turned whistleblower, Dallas Jones, admitted to being paid to mail fraudulent ballot applications in Harris County. As Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign director, he allegedly oversaw an organized voter fraud operation. Texas DA’s have identifiedmail-in mafia,” people who profit from organized mail-in ballot fraud.

 

But the Harris County Dem Commissioners voted to challenge the state planned audit because, why? Because County Judge Lina Hidalgo equated the audit to the January 6 riot in Washington D.C., that’s why. Unfortunately, the very same people who lack pattern recognition lack the sense of irony to see through her histrionic grandstanding.

 

Those of us with sufficient irony wonder, is it too much to ask that voters be legal citizens and live where they vote? Apparently, for the judge who struck down the portion of SB11 that requires voters to have a physical address attached to a post office box for the purposes of voter registration, the answer is yes. That smacks of voter suppression!

 

But back in Harris County, one of the Commissioners admits there were clearly election problems such as polling locations not opening on time, lack of training, incorrect ballots given to voters, and delays in counting ballots that violate state law: I would think there’s been voter suppression in Harris County,” he said, “simply because we don’t know how to run an election.” Now this man has a sense of irony.

 

But he’s got a real point too—ineptitude is playing a big role in the fouling of our elections. Organizations who monitor election integrity in Texas have noted the dire lack of well trained election workers and poll watchers. Many are not familiar with state law or election code. More than any other fix, getting well trained, smart and savvy people into every phase of the election process will help true the vote. These are the eyes and ears that are needed to ensure election authorities know we are watching and taking action.

 

We who wish for free and fair elections are raging against a machine. Whether it’s systemic ineptitude, an organized fraud operation, or actual machines—the electronic voting machines themselves. The voting manufacturing companies in use in our state—Election Systems & Software and Hart InterCivic—have acknowledged they put modems in some of their tabulators and scanners. The most common voting machines in Texas are known to be embedded with wireless modem chips, despite the persistent insistence that the machines are not hackable because they cannot be connected to the internet. Quite the opposite—they can be wirelessly connected by a phone signal. And the state of Texas does not even bother to inspect these machines. The companies themselves give a certification. The foxes are dining at the hen house.

 

The Texas GOP is looking for legislation in the upcoming session that will:

Restore felony penalties for Election Code violations and make them enforceable by any Texas jurisdiction, including our state’s Attorney General

Require citizenship verification of each voter

Restrict the distribution of mail-in ballots to only disabled, military, and citizens that are out of state.

Reduce the time allowed for early voting, and eliminate the three-day gap between early voting and election day.

 

That all sounds great and should help a lot, but I like the Fix Our Elections for Dummies approach that suggests four easy steps:

 

1. No more early voting

2. No more mail-in ballots for those not requesting them

3. Require voter I.D.

4. Count until it’s over. Duh.

 

And I’d add another three:

 

5. Paper Ballots

6. Paper Ballots

7. Paper Ballots

 

Unfortunately, it’ll be 2026 before SB1 requires all Texas counties to comply with my request.

Talk About the Weather

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER…

…But no one is doing anything about it, as the old saw goes.

Well, that’s not strictly true. ERCOT is asking Texans to “conserve” during peak hours, and some utilities have reportedly been tampering with customers’ programmable thermostats. So there’s that.

And some environmentalists are clambering to have Biden declare a climate emergency so we can have the Feds bail out our mismanaged grid.

Likewise the Greensters are claiming that renewables, while they failed miserably during Snowmaggedon, are “bailing Texas out this summer,” at least according to Texas Monthly, even though wind power is delivering just “8% of its nameplate capacity during the heat of the day,” ERCOT admits. No doubt they will be pushing to double down on the solar-wind-boondoggle, brought to us by Federal subsidies for the benefit of the C.C.P. That’s heartening.

Last year proposals were submitted to incentivize the building of new power plants, one by none other than Warren Buffett, cuz ya know, he really needs those incentives. The Leg took a pass on that and kicked the can down the road, the way they have for 12 years already.

After the winter grid failure, bills were passed of which Gov. Abbott said, “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”  One bill had mostly to do with weatherization of plants and lines for winter, but oops, it’s summer and the grid is near failure again. If power plants don’t get some down time for routine maintenance, there surely will be some catastrophic failures.

The other bill the Leg passed had to do with “securitization.” Essentially, when the grid failed to keep the energy flowing, ERCOT and the PUC intervened, setting prices at their maximum and keeping them there for days. Then, lawmakers stepped in “to socialize the cost of that failure — some $16 billion — among all ratepayers, orchestrating a bailout that we will still be paying for 30 years from now.” 

Energy Fellows at University of Houston decry these efforts as “Band-aid bills” and “willful disregard of public good.”

And even though heads rolled at ERCOT after the winter storm debacle, the new CEO seems as clueless as the last one. When asked about the threat of rolling blackouts this summer, he demurred that this summer’s temperatures have been “hotter than his models had projected.” Forbes magazine politely called this “a failure of imagination.”  I call it proof that CEO Brad Jones doesn’t live here.

And though between 500-600 thousand people moved to Texas in 2021 alone, it seems ERCOT was also taken by surprise by how much demand on the grid grew. Ok, clearly none of these people live here.

Otherwise they’d know that August is just arriving and our problems are not over, though somehow now  the implication is that it’s the consumers’ fault. Gosh, we’re using too much electricity! We need austerity!

ERCOT’s current pleas for customer conservation seem reminiscent of Biden’s going hat in hand to the Saudi’s to bail him out for his aggressive anti-oil policies. Frankly, all this ineptitude and inaction almost looks like a setup for us to fail and have to admit, at last, that on the face of it, deregulation and our state’s energy sovereignty are a total bust.

To which Texans should say a “Hail NO!” that resounds thru the halls of the Capital. Texans value their independence and, I believe, that extends to having our own grid. But we’d like it to function properly for the 26 million Texans who rely on it.

History has proven that Legislators can’t keep their mitts off. Because for as much as is touted about our deregulated energy market, it really isn’t. It’s a heavy mix of command economics with a dash of free market for flavor. This interjects “distortion” into the energy markets, a word that comes up repeatedly as you dive into this topic. Almost as frequently as “bailout.”

*  Subsidies for renewable energy will cost the state over $900 million this year. Combined with Federal subsidies the total comes to 2.16 billion, skewing the markets irretrievably.

*  Texans pay for electricity even when the renewable power generators fail. In fact, they pay more (something called “variability”)

*  Power companies are pushing hard for a “capacity” market that gives them guaranteed payment for energy production, whether it’s used or not. This is essentially a “bail in,” and it’s proven expensive in other parts of the U.S.

*  As much as $225 million of electricity is lost annually in transmission lines; energy the consumer can’t use but pays for anyway.

*  The Public Utility Commission’s authority to interfere in the market has gradually increased over the last two decades, and neither the grid nor the consumer has benefitted.

*  ERCOT and the Railroad Commission oversee the electricity and gas markets respectively, with little or no coordination between the two. This was a critical point of failure in Storm Uri.

During the winter storm, ERCOT held the price of electricity at its $9,000 cap after emergency conditions had ceased, causing providers to buy on the wholesale market at exorbitant prices. The price tag of this folly is an estimated extra 14 billion that will be “securitized.” In other words, the electric provider’s debt will be amortized to be paid off by us, the ratepayers, over the next 30 years.

Meanwhile, electricity prices have risen 65% even without taking into account the surcharges for securitization, mainly based on the decision to increase “peaker plants,” keeping more generation online in case of emergency, a sort of half step toward a capacity model which is considered by some to distort the market’s dynamics.

But by far the biggest distortion is renewables. As energy expert David Blackmon wrote, “Since the Texas legislature de-regulated the energy market and started heavily-subsidizing the installation of wind farms without the slightest initial plan on how to move the energy they generate to market or properly manage that energy as part of a complex integrated power grid… Texas today leads the nation in wind power generation, and also challenges energy 3rd-world basket case California for the leadership in rolling blackouts.”

But what does ERCOT CEO Brad Jones have to say? “I want as much wind and solar in this market as we can get.” Exactly the wrong response.

According to an article in The Federalist by Brent Bennett, “In a couple of years, Texas electric bills will start to look like California’s instead of the low-cost electricity the state is accustomed to.”

Hopefully reason will prevail and we will recoil from further renewables as from a hot stove.

So, the Leg passed a couple of stop gap measures, none of which solves the real problem. We have an aging grid.  A plant’s life is 30 years, and some of ours are 50 years old. Texas is booming and it takes 4 years to bring a new thermal (non renewable) plant online. 

On the gas side, there is no incentive for gas providers to weatherize their old wells. Retrofit is expensive, and they might opt to shutter wells instead. And since they made out like Madoff during the winter storm anyway, there’s no percentage in it. This highlights the deep disconnect between the electricity and gas markets, so deep that gas providers actually benefit from a dysfunctional grid. It is opined that SB3 and its winterization initiatives actually addressed this, but it remains to be seen. Jim Boyle, former counsel for PUC, said, “Can we rely on the Railroad Commission to do right in the rules and getting winterization in place? The answer is we can’t.” That doesn’t sound bullish.

Finally, ERCOT serves a dual role that looks pretty dicey—it monitors grid reliability and also brokers contracts traded in the wholesale market. In fact, they got sued in the latter capacity, Panda Power company accusing them of “fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty.”

As one University of Houston Energy Fellow declared, “The PUC and ERCOT have proven they’re incapable of acting in the public interest.”

So what are some potential policy takeaways that can fix this mess?

The following plank points are provided by The Energy Alliance:

Eliminate subsidies for renewable energy

 

Require Renewable Generators to Pay for the Costs They Impose on the Grid Because of Intermittency and Federal Subsidies

 

Resist power companies’ attempts to create a capacity market
 

Eliminate the PUC and Railroad Commission’s authority to manipulate market prices

Allow the market to provide the incentives for power companies to build new capacity to meet our growing demand

Ensure that customers pay only for the energy supplied to them, not the energy transmitted

 

These policy plank points are provided by the U of H Energy Fellows:

Create a Texas Energy Commission that combines the PUC and the Railroad Commission

Do not allow ERCOT to broker contracts on the wholesale electricity market

Reimburse consumers for ERCOT’s gross mismanagement of the Uri Storm grid failure

Incentivize grid operators to build more generation by levying a small fee on consumers

Allow utilities to face penalties and legal liability for grid failures
 

The Energy Alliance’s proposals are purely unfettered free market. The U of H Energy Fellow’s proposals are more geared to recognize the structural problems that plague the Texas Grid. To my mind, the practical approach is a blended one, that aims to free the market from the systemic problems that interference, variability, and distortion have created while not ignoring the crisis that lies directly ahead if inaction continues.

Do the Right Thing

Five more Texas counties have joined in calling the crisis on our southern border “an invasion,” bringing the total number of counties to seventeen—Parker, Goliad, Wise, Wilson, Johnson, Live Oak, Tyler, Atascosa, Terrell, Kinney, Burnet, Medina, Chambers, Liberty, Orange, Hardin and Ellis. Ellis County was particularly pointed in placing responsibility on Gov. Abbott to immediately prevent and/or remove all persons trespassing as well as invading the sovereignty of Texas and that of the United States.”

That’s a pretty comprehensive call to action, and one that can only happen if the Governor invokes Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution and Article IV, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution. And while Abbott did sign an executive order last month calling the situation an “invasion,” he has stopped short of allowing state police or the National Guard to deport illegals. Instead, he has waffled, citing worries that doing so would place state officials at risk of federal prosecution. To which my response is, I think AG Paxton is up to the task. He’s the feistiest Attorney General we’ve ever had. Bring it!

Instead, Abbott goes for political theater and optics. His order last year to stop commercial trucks at the border likely resulted in few or no seizures of smuggled drugs or humans, but rather in snarled lines at the points of entry that slowed Texas businesses. Likewise, his authorization to return illegals to the border is an empty gesture, as it falls short of deportation.

Finally, his busing of border crashers to New York and D.C., while successful in making him a burr under the blanket of those blue municipalities, is little more than a cute photo op, as Arizona gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, called it. It does precisely nothing to mitigate the tidal wave of illegal immigration, the damage that paramilitary and narco-terrorist cartels are inflicting on our border communities and beyond, nor the suffering to which trafficked humans are subjected.

Perhaps the biggest tell among this last round of counties declaring an invasion is the one from Ellis County, where the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the declaration. Ellis County is south of Dallas, a full seven hours away from the border, yet to a man, the Commissioners recognized that the flood of drugs and unvetted illegals issuing from those border counties affects all of Texas. Just the explosion of fentanyl in the state has far reaching impacts on the safety of our communities, and the mental health and well-being of our citizens. Crime rates and incidence of drug overdoses are the stats that tell the story.

Compare and contrast Abbott’s inaction to the campaign promise Lake has breathed fire into—the very first day after she is elected Arizona Governor, she will declare the incursions on her state’s southern border “an invasion.” There is no grandstanding here, no political one upmanship. We’ve seen the drone footage of the cartels’ foot soldiers imbedding themselves on the U.S. side of the Arizona border. They are taking ownership of the border on both sides. And Kari Lake is dead serious about stopping it. Is Abbott? Don’t we as Texans have the obligation to demand that he takes a similar hard line stance?

While I cannot prove this as of yet, there is anecdotal evidence of the narco-terrorist organizations commandeering Arizona ranches along the border at gunpoint. This sort of thing had been commonplace in Mexico, and now it’s here. Will it take the invasion becoming a full occupation for Abbott to take the vital and necessary action to uphold and protect our state’s sovereignty? By then, Governor, I’m afraid it will be too late. Then you will need more than the National Guard. You will need an army.

Nothing short of a declaration now by Governor Abbott that invokes the Constitution and unshackles law enforcement at all levels to do its job will suffice. The rest is smoke and mirrors. The time to point fingers at the Biden Administration has long past. Their agenda to destabilize and bankrupt the country, undermine the working class with cheap illegal labor, and forever change the outcome of our elections in their favor by diluting the electorate with illegal votes is crystal clear.

They’ve zero interest in securing the border and we all know it.  But we have an existential interest in doing so. This is an issue that deeply impacts the future of all Texans. It is time we demand that Abbott do the right thing.

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