Power Poll Members Lack Confidence in Texas Power Grid

December 17, 2021 10:00am
Photo of Andrea Zelinski
Austin, TX Correspondent

Members unequivocally say Matthew McConaughey should not run for political office

The most influential Austinites have little, if any, faith in the electrical grid should another brutal winter storm blast Texas, expressing a lack of confidence in Governor Greg Abbott’s "guarantee the lights will stay on."

Seven out of 10 Power Poll members said they have either “no confidence” or are “not very confident” the power will stay on should extreme weather hit Texas. A solid 30% of members said they had "no confidence" the lights will stay on whatsoever. 

This is personal: nearly four out of five Power Poll members said they faced “some” or “a lot” of difficulty as a result of the February 2021 winter storm. 

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In other Power Poll findings, members found a range of issues most important to them in the 2021 election cycle. The most common top issues among Austin’s movers and shakers are leadership and political corruption, the economy and abortion. Other contending issues include the electrical grid, border security and education. 

While we’re talking about elections, Power Poll members overwhelmingly oppose Matthew McConaughey running for political office. Four out of five members said he should “not run for political office.” Of those who thought he should, the majority said the U.S. Senate seat in 2024 is the way to go.

Here are the specific questions and answers of the December Austin Power Poll: 

This survey was sent to 512 Power Poll members in the Austin area, where 126 responded for a response rate of 24.61%. 

The Power Poll is not a scientific poll, but a look into the minds of those wielding power and influence in our community, including public officials, CEOs, small business owners, community activists, restaurants owners and others. Power Poll is decidedly non-partisan. 

Power Poll questions power brokers in approximately 25 cities across the country. Power Poll members share their opinions about pressing issues in their communities, giving the public a larger glimpse of what the people who run our cities are truly thinking. Power Poll aims to take similar surveys in the top 300 cities in the United States. 

CONTEXT
Before Valentines Day of 2021, few Texans had ever heard of ERCOT or the PUC. But the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the Public Utilities Commission, among other energy agencies, became household names as millions of people who lost power to their homes for days on end used the dwindling battery life on their phones to figure out why their lights weren’t turning back on and who to blame. 

Spurred by what scientists believe was a stretching of the polar vortex, Winter Storm Uri pushed the Texas electrical grid within five minutes of collapse. As temperatures plummeted, ice formed and snow fell, demand for electricity to keep homes and buildings warm skyrocketed. Natural gas, coal, nuclear and wind energy sources fell offline, cutting off supply when the grid needed it most. 

ERCOT ordered rolling power outages across the state to keep the grid from a full collapse. This outage lasted not just hours, but for some people, days as operators struggled to get more power online while the storm’s cold temperatures persisted. An estimated 210 people died due to the storm, according to government officials.

While lawmakers made a lot of noise about who to blame or what to change, critics argued the regulatory changes made by the Republican Legislature didn't go far enough. This month, oil and gas producers expressed confidence in the electrical grid this winter. Some said did not make significant changes or upgrades to ready their equipment for the cold, but have instead focused on ensuring the electricity keeps flowing to their plant in an emergency. 

In November, when asked by a reporter, Governor Greg Abbott she he could "guarantee the lights would stay on."Austin’s leaders, shivering with the memory of their struggles in February, don’t believe him. While Austinites tend to vote Democratic, a lack of confidence or failure of the electrical grid could prove a political vulnerability for Republicans in the 2022 elections. 

Speaking of the elections, Abbott is up for reelection in 2022, as are other statewide and legislative officials. Hot races are shaping up in Abbott’s bid to fend off fellow Republicans trying to run to his right, and another features embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton’s fight for a third term. Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who lost his bids for U.S. Senate and president, is hoping to lead the Democratic ticket to challenge the political power dynamics of Texas. 

This month’s Power Poll forced members to choose just one issue as their most important in the coming year. Given Austin’s political makeup as a largely Democratic-voting city, it makes sense that Power Poll members want to see a change in leadership, including who lives at the governor’s mansion. 

One thing is clear: members don’t think Matthew McConaughey should be the one to ever move in. After the beloved actor, and minority owner of Austin FC, spent much of 2021 public contemplating whether he’d run for governor, he announced in November he would sit this year’s race out.

But he is leaving the door open to run for office later. He reiterated that on Late Night with Seth Meyers Wednesday, after saying his family was ready for him to run for governor. "After living in a mind of 'maybe I will' for over a year, I said, 'No, it's not the right time for me right now. It's not my embassy, I'm going see what I can do in more of an informal space as a leader.'" Sounds like a man who may not be finished with politics, yet. 

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