TEXAS — As the sun heats up, the pressure is on the Texas power grid to meet the surging demand for electricity. The grid’s operator, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, urged Texans to conserve energy Monday.

While ERCOT managed to avoid an emergency situation, the call to conserve still brought back painful memories from the 2021 winter storm. It also brought back scrutiny on the Republican-led reforms to the grid passed last session. Now, Democrats see an opening ahead of the November election. 

After the deadly winter storm last year, Democrats like Lieutenant Gov. candidate Mike Collier are accusing Republicans of being more concerned about social issues than bread-and-butter problems.

“We have political leaders that care more about, you know, Chick-fil-A and bathrooms, and I’m talking about [Lieutenant Gov.] Dan Patrick, than actually fixing the damn grid,” said Collier.

They also accuse the Republican governor and the GOP-dominated legislature of not doing enough to ensure the reliability of the electric grid. 

“If we don’t have air conditioning in the summer for extreme heat, and if we don’t have heat in the winter, then we’re in a lot bigger trouble than whatever we’re dealing with right now,” said Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey, who represents parts of Dallas and Fort Worth. “And so it’s up to Greg Abbott and Republicans to finally step up and do something about this. Again, before it’s too late.”

But Texas Republicans are adamant the slew of laws passed during last year’s legislative session, including changing the governance of ERCOT and requiring the winterization of some facilities, make the grid stronger than ever. 

Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t respond to our request for comment, but Gov. Greg Abbott spoke about the issue at an event Monday. 

“The power grid has been able to respond in record ways of providing more power than ever before,” said the governor. “Providing power flawlessly, in large part because of the reforms that we passed last session.”

Some energy experts question how the grid is being managed.

“We need to be looking at energy as an extraordinarily vital component of economic life and wellbeing the state and we have not treated it that way,” said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston. “We’ve looked at it as cheap is better than reliable and, and you know, you get what you pay for it.” 

Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant, says it’s less about the grid being unreliable, and more about an unprecedented set of challenges. 

“[It] isn’t so much that the grid is unreliable, but that Texas population, Texas electricity demand, and Texas heat have grown much faster than we can grow the grid to deal with it. So it’s a multi-part issue.”