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First debate of McAllen mayoral candidates set for live online presentation on Wednesday, March 3, from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. by McAllen Area Rotary Clubs - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Graphic By ANTHONY ACOSTA

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First debate of McAllen mayoral candidates set for live online presentation on Wednesday, March 3, from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m by McAllen Area Rotary Clubs 

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

The five candidates for McAllen mayor will debate for the first time in a live-streamed presentation on Wednesday, March 3, 2021,  from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. 

The McAllen Area Rotary Clubs will be hosting the 90-minute forum live on Zoom, and simultaneously streaming on Facebook and Youtube.

For those who miss the live presentation, the videotaped version will be available on Facebook.

The McAllen election will take place on Saturday, May 1, 2021, which is two months away, and community members want to know about the next mayor’s agenda. 

Currently, the mayoral candidates scheduled to attend include (in alphabetical order) Othal Brand, Jr., Michael Fallek, Dr. Shahid Rashid, Verónica Vela Whitacre, and Javier Villalobos. The current mayor of McAllen, Jim Darling, is not running for reelection.

 Interested individuals may view the debate live onYoutube and onFacebook.  The candidates will be given the opportunity to submit questions to the moderators, which will be added at the end of the debate for the candidates to respond.  

Background on the candidates are available accordingly:

JAVIER VILLALOBOS
https://www.facebook.com/javier.villalobos.752

MICHAEL FALLEK
https://michaelformcallenmayor.com

DR. SHAID RASHID
https://riograndeguardian.com/rashid-why-i-am-running-for-mayor-of-mcallen/

VERÓNICA VELA WHITACRE
https://www.facebook.com/voteveronica/

OTHAL E. BRAND, JR.
https://www.facebook.com/OthalEBrandJr/?fref=ts

For more information on the event, individuals may contact Adam Lara at 956/624-6588 or by email at [email protected]

For details on the dates for early voting, early voting locations, and election day voting elections, log on to:

https://www.mcallen.net/departments/secretary/city-elections/general-election-2021

SEN. JUAN “CHUY’ HINOJOSA: TEXANS SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF DECADES-LONG PUSH FOR ENERGY DEREGULATION, 

Column by State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen

Texas often prides itself on being a low-regulation state that puts the free market ahead of all else. While this approach does work in some situations, often on a short-term basis, it can also have dire consequences as demonstrated by millions of Texans left without power and/or water.

To understand how the human side of this disaster happened, we have to take a look at how we got here. 

In 1999, Texas deregulated its energy market. This meant that instead of cities or other local entities completely controlling the supply of energy to customers, the provision of electricity would be broken up into three components – generation, transmission, and retail. 

Under this new regime, a customer would have the choice between various retail electric providers, with the hopes that such a move would lower prices. However, as we have experienced before and are learning yet again – you often get what you pay for.

As part of the change to a deregulated energy market, prices were no longer fixed by the government. Companies were instead encouraged to compete to attract customers. With that competition came fewer rules from the state by which each of these players in the energy market had to abide.

Unfortunately, this system created incentives for energy companies to cut corners and invest as little as possible in order to maximize their profits. 

It would be easy to just blame the energy companies for doing this, but it is the system that the state created that is truly to blame. When electric generators are told they should take certain actions, like winterizing their power plants, but that simply remains a suggestion, then most companies will not do so out of fear that their competitor will choose not to and ultimately make more money or attract more customers. 

Situations like these are why we have government regulation and we need to take a hard look at what is and is not working in the energy market in Texas.

One question you might be asking yourself is where does ERCOT fit into all this? Undoubtedly by now, you have heard or read something about ERCOT and the (not-so) rolling blackouts it implemented across the state. Sadly, during the winter storms of late February 2021, ERCOT did not live up to its name – the Electric RELIABILITY Council of Texas. 

Too many Texans were made the victim of what proved to be a very un-reliable grid, and concrete steps have to be taken to ensure it never happens again.

Following deregulation, ERCOT took a larger role in the energy market in Texas. Now that retail electric providers could purchase their electricity from anywhere in the state, some entity needed to be in charge of managing the market of producing, buying, selling and transmitting electricity all across Texas. 

In 2002, ERCOT was made into an independent organization with a board that consists of representatives from the energy companies, the state, and the public. However, ERCOT is still subject to regulations by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and is thus still under the control of the state.

The state is taking e a look, top to bottom, at how electricity is generated and provided to the public. 

While ERCOT played a role in this disaster, they are not the only ones responsible. 

What actions did state leaders take or not take that led to millions of Texans being left in the cold without power for days? 

Why did our power plants prove to be so inferior to those in other areas of the country that felt the same cold, but did not have the same devastating power outages? 

We already know quite a bit. 

First, we know that despite numerous elected officials claiming that the outages were the fault of wind turbines that froze, the truth is that the failure of renewable energy was dwarfed by the failure of fossil fuel plants. 

We know this because a senior official at ERCOT gave us the facts about what power generation was knocked offline by the cold, and those facts showed that thermal power production (that is nuclear, coal, and natural gas) accounted for around two-thirds of the lost generating capacity. Especially hard hit were natural gas plants who struggled to get supply because transmission lines froze and power to pump the gas out of the ground was unavailable.

But it didn’t have to be this way. 

Ten years ago much of the state experienced a freeze that knocked numerous power plants offline. A study was conducted by federal regulators to determine how to prevent this from happening again, and part of the recommendations made was to winterize power plants. However, given the lack of regulations in Texas around energy production, those solutions remained recommendations, not requirements. 

One area of the state, El Paso, that is not part of ERCOT and is instead part of a federally regulated grid implemented these solutions and the results this past week were striking – only a few thousand people lost power for mere minutes.

Moving forward, I am confident that we will learn the details of what went wrong and how we can fix it. 

We must resist the temptation to believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime event that we don’t need to plan for again. With climate change making our summers hotter and winters colder, the demand on our energy grid is only going to intensify and we have to be ready for it. 

The solutions exist – more stringent regulations that put people ahead of profits, the adoption of smart technology like robust energy storage, and treating electricity as a true utility that we all have a right to have and enjoy and that remains reliable when we need it most. 

We have a responsibility to ensure these solutions don’t remain ideas on the shelf, but rather are put into action.

DeANNE WALKER, CHAIR OF THE PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESIGNS AFTER LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK’S REQUEST

The chair of the agency that oversees electric generation and delivery in Texas announced her resignation on Monday, March 1, 2021, hours after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that she should step down, according to Texas Senate News. 

In a statement released that day, Patrick said that DeAnn Walker, Chair of the Public Utility Commission (PUC)  – as well as Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – failed to warn state officials and the public of the danger the storm posed to the state’s power grid. 

“Instead, Texans and lawmakers were told there might be ‘rolling brownouts’ of short duration along with the typical messages we get when cold weather comes to the state ­ cover your plants and keep your pets inside,” said Patrick. “In short, they hoped for the best instead of planning for the worst.”

Magness and Walker spent nine hours combined in front of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Thursday, February 25, 2021, trying to explain how a state considered a world leader in energy production could spend days in darkness. 

Magness told the committee he felt his level of alarm for the storm was commensurate with what his organization had forecast. “What we understood we were facing based on the weather forecast and the generation we had available, we were probably going to have rotating outages – but manageable ones,” Magness testified Thursday. “What we did not anticipate was losing up to 48 percent of the generation available Monday night.”

In his statement, Patrick cited testimony from Vistra Energy CEO Curt Morgan as further evidence of ERCOT’s lack of readiness. 

Morgan testified Thursday that ERCOT officials failed to display “a sense of urgency” when he warned them of his company’s more serious demand forecast on February 10th. “ERCOT thought they had it,” said Morgan. “I think they believed that they were going to be able to manage through it.”

While ERCOT “directs traffic” on the state’s energy grid, including orders to generators to reduce output when needed to prevent the grid from becoming unbalanced, the PUC is the state agency charged with oversight of that grid. 

Many members seemed taken aback on Thursday by Walker’s testimony that the agency she chairs lacks full authority to manage ERCOT. 

“I would contend that it’s not a problem with authority,” said Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton. “I would contend that you are choosing not to leverage the authority we’ve given you, and that’s a serious, serious problem.”

Patrick also said that assertions that ERCOT and the PUC adequately warned state lawmakers of the impending threat were untrue. 

“Both the Chairman and CEO publicly testified they had informed state leadership, including me, about the seriousness of the winter storm. In fact, as they both admitted to me the day after the hearings, their testimony was not accurate,” he said. “They did not provide me with information regarding the potential catastrophic grid-threatening danger of the storm before the morning of February 15, and, based on the questions that were asked in the House and Senate investigation committees, I don’t believe that information was provided to any other state lawmakers.”

The safety and reliability of the state electric grid have leaped to the top of the list of priorities for the legislative session, and as lawmakers look for reforms to ensure that another failure doesn’t happen, Patrick said it’s clear the organizations in charge of that grid need new leadership. 

“The lack of adequate preparation by both the ERCOT CEO and the PUC chair prior to the storm, their failure to plan for the worst-case scenario, and their failure to communicate in a timely manner dictates they are not the ones to oversee the reforms needed,” he said. PUC officials are scheduled to appear in front of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday to defend their agency budget requests.

The Senate reconvened on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at 3 p.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s Audio/Video Archive.

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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