Expropriate the Power
The people of Texas should seize and conglomerate their electrical power systems or face tyranny in a time of climate disaster.
But first, a story.
Not too terribly long ago Domino's pizza came to an unsettling conclusion. They were loosing money and didn't know why. Their sales were low and everything they did seemed to make no difference.
Taking cues from McDonald's, they became a leader in innovation in their industry in an effort to save money. Time from order to delivery of their product was streamlined. Over the years they had substituted higher priced ingredients for more, let's say, economically meager alternatives. Labor costs were kept to a minimum. Still they lost money.
Like any corporation worth their salt they threw their marketing team into action with a number of surveys. Surveys showed general satisfaction with delivery times. They also showed that customers generally favored their competitive price. However, Domino's was hemorrhaging cash. Then they found it. The marketing team found out why their sales were low and why they were losing money.
Their pizza fucking sucked.
They had lost sight of their main goal, which was to make money by selling pizza. The effort to make their product more profitable by using cheaper ingredients had backfired; their product was worse and people didn't want it. This is a losing strategy seen across many fast food industries. McDonald's used to have a good hamburger. Taco Bell was once a decent taco stand. In their thirst for more money their product became merely an edible derivative of something that once resembled food.
This trend of cheapening the product, this innovation to the bottom, produces a side effect wherein people will want it less unless the price is right. It's a gamble and the payoff is the consumer must radically lower their expectations of excellence in the product. However, as Domino's found out, there is a bottom. There is a point of quality so low that most consumers will not follow. McDonald's and Taco Bell had found their equilibrium points. For Domino's the lesson was a painful one.
The general population really has no stake in the viability of Domino's. If the company should fail, thousands of people would be forced to find other low-paying, dead-end jobs of which, there are many. Life would continue as normal. In the grand scheme of things the mistake Domino's had made and their near-death experience matters not at all. But, what if the stakes are higher? What if the product is not a pizza, burger, nor taco? What if the product is instrumental to the functioning of our society? What if the product is electricity?
Then it got cold.
If you are reading this from the future, I am writing this from my house in San Antonio just after snow storm Uri in mid February 2021. While the power in my neighborhood has gone uninterrupted, for nearly 4 million people it has not. Not only do people not have electricity to heat their homes, water infrastructure can't operate pumps to supply water to customers. One class of those customers is the grocery store industry. As they have neither water or power there are now lines hundreds of people long to get into the few open stores to find rapidly depleting food stocks as delivery trucks are sidelined waiting for operable fuel pumps.
Let's be clear about a few facts: people have died, it was totally preventable, the governor blames green energy and a soon-to-be guillotined, former mayor doesn't give a fuck about your problems.
Due to the Republican and Neo-Liberal fetishism of deregulation, ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) is an entity run by the corporations that it is supposed to govern. In their quest for profitability over reliability they have allowed these energy companies to give us the Domino's pizza of electrical grids.
Deregulation always leads to profits over all. Proponents of it will always tout that it will lead to more choice, competitive pricing and is the “free market” solution; better in every way for the consumer. However, I would argue that I don't really want choice or competitive pricing in my electrical provider. I expect it to work in cold weather. I expect to pay a reasonable price for it without this “choice” that I'm frankly not included in. Furthermore, I would expect industries that waste electricity and pollute our environment to have to pay more.
I predict the chance of regulation returning to Texas's electric industry to be quite low. Some reforms will be demanded, and some heads will figuratively roll, though I wish that were literal. Any reforms forced upon ERCOT by the government will be made to satisfy the requirements of the shareholders not the constituents. You and I will play a minor roll in determining the future. Any substantial changes minimally required for ERCOT to live up to its namesake will be passed to the consumer. You will have to pay more for electricity in order to make up for the poor decisions of ERCOT. Much, much more.
We have only just begun to feel the pain
I lived in Chicago for 12 years. As far as winter storms go, this was pretty weak. This once-in-a-lifetime storm was standard fare for the upper mid-west. As climate change worsens, which it will, and as people move here, which they will do, increasing demand on this grid will produce repeated failures. It is a shit-show in the making. The cost to update the grid to future-proof it for weather conditions will be in the billions.
How can we afford to update the system and maintain profitability for share holders? We can't. And frankly, we shouldn't. Why should the electrical grid operate at a profit? The great contradiction of business, which in business circles is either never talked about or outright dismissed, is that often “good business” is wholesale immoral. Gross profiting from life's necessities is immoral.
Some would argue that electricity is not in the classical array of necessities of food, water, shelter and clothing and that it is merely a luxury that is taken for granted and has falsely ascended to the status of necessity. I would argue that human survival without any assistance from others is impossible. So impossible that we have created super-structures, societies if you will, in order to ensure not only our survival but the survival of others. As societies grow they naturally develop mechanisms of efficiency based on new technologies created by the members of that society. It is a symbiotic relationship that suffers greatly when a technology fails. The society, unable to move, cannot rely on previous mechanisms as they have been erased now that they are obsolete. A modern society requires modern technology, therefore the individual also requires it thusly.
An individual requires inputs and processes to survive: material means. It can be weakly argued that an individual who chooses not to acquire those means directly, but instead chooses to source them from others, can be a source of profit to the providers. However, as a society progresses, and the aforementioned mechanisms are erased, the individual now must acquire material means from others. It is therefore immoral to profit from the necessities of life supplied by a society as the individual now has been stripped not only of choice but of opportunity. Profit in this manner is not derived from voluntary interaction, but rather coercion.
We live in a coercive society. As electricity is necessary for society to exist our only “choice” is to pay for our own exploitation or to exit civilization. That is not a choice of free people but of a people held hostage and enslaved by moneyed interests. The choice of exploitation or expulsion is the coercion, and the governmental enforcement of this choice with its limited alternatives is corruption. We are being used.
But, we did our part. We fulfilled our part of the coercive deal forced upon us in exchange for the security of the fruits of society. They have failed us. They did not live up to their end of the social contract, and now we are the ones to bear the burden. Am I or my fellow Texan required to enrich other men at our expense? Are some of us required to die for the sake of money-for-monies sake; our flesh rendered to heat the ovens of the rich? A society that relies on exploitation and death as its provisions of social contract is one that is justifiably deserved to undergo a violent reformation.
Liberty is Self-determined Security
Climate change is upon us. Our future, our survival, depends on the willful cooperation of people in society free of coercive and exploitative relationships. Members of ERCOT, blessed by the government, will continue to innovate to the bottom in the name of profit. They will find that equilibrium point at the expense of more lives either via direct consequences, as we have seen recently, or via pricing their service high enough to drive the people into poverty. It is truly a race to the bottom.
If we can agree that societal needs aught not to be run at a profit, then we should also be able to agree that those needs aught not to be owned by profiteers. The electrical grid should be owned, directly owned, by the people and administered and maintained by the workers of the electrical industry. It is a self-determined security required for a liberated society. Security provided without liberty is tyranny and those who have the power to willfully maintain a coercive society are tyrants who should be dealt with accordingly.