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Extreme weather pushed Texas's power grid to the brink. It's time to finally fix it.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan ‘will help prepare us before the next big cold snap hits,’ Steve Brown writes.

By Steve Brown - July 14, 2021
Texans taking shelter from cold weather.

It’s only mid-July and Texans already have faced urgent calls to conserve energy, after scorching weather put a huge strain on our power grid. Energy officials tell us that the crisis has been averted — at least for now. But it’s surely not the last time that my state will have to grapple with reduced service and outages caused by its failing power infrastructure.

Last month’s near-record demand on our electricity system comes just a few months after an unprecedented bout of extreme cold weather led to its near total collapse. The Lone Star State is famous for severe weather, from drought to floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. But not many of us saw this year’s devastating winter storm coming. That brutal cold snap may have claimed as many as 700 lives.

Now, with warm weather already upon us, it would be easy to delay efforts to fix the broken infrastructure that all of America saw buckle as a result of winter’s extreme cold. That would be a huge mistake. We need to update our foundering power grid — and soon.

Winter’s cold snap caused $130 billion in damages, exceeding the cost of Hurricane Harvey. Some 70% of Texans using the state’s main grid lost power. Black and Hispanic Texans — the same groups hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic — were disproportionately impacted by the power outages. And in addition to power outages, around 14.9 million Texans experienced water disruptions. None of us want to endure infrastructure failures like that again.

That’s why I’m excited about Joe Biden’s plan to provide federal resources for clean energy, both in urban and rural areas. When I ran for the office of Texas railroad commission in 2014, I spent a year campaigning across the state, and talked to folks about the need to transition to renewable energy.

I saw that there was virtually no investment in clean energy, and little effort to protect natural resources in many communities. A couple of years later, in 2016, I went into business, creating a company that would address issues of inequity in sustainable energy, and specializing in the development, financing and marketing of clean energy projects. Biden’s investment in funding clean energy projects, under his American Jobs Plan, will allow businesses like mine to grow and build resilient communities throughout Texas.

My company focuses on under-resourced communities that may not have access to capital. Many firms would be more inclined to underwrite a loan to retrofit a luxury office building in a suburban area than a small church in a lower-income neighborhood. Our goal is to make sustainable energy more inclusive, and we choose to invest in communities that are overlooked and often feel the brunt of natural disasters.

I’m not alone in seeing the opportunities this plan presents to Main Street. A recent survey of more than 1,000 small business owners by Small Business for America’s Future found that 80% support the American Jobs Plan, 76% think it will boost the economy, and 72% say it will help small businesses specifically.

When my business retrofits a home or commercial building, I know we’re making our community more resilient to extreme weather. The winter storm showed us that we must make grid modernization a priority if we want to minimize blackouts and save lives. The proposed infrastructure plan would include federal spending and tax incentives to improve electric grid infrastructure. America desperately needs new transmission lines, and now we have the opportunity to make them more sustainable by using cleaner sources of power like wind and solar.

And the plan’s focus on transmission line projects will make our energy more reliable and add more clean energy jobs to our economy. The Biden administration projects that the program will add 10 million clean energy jobs to the economy. My state of Texas has the opportunity to be at the leading edge of that.

The American Jobs Plan is not just good for my business. It is good for our country and will help accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. And it will help prepare us before the next big cold snap hits.

Steve Brown is the president of Houston-based Capital Assets Energy, LLC — a clean energy development consulting firm that specializes in the retrofitting properties with energy efficient upgrades — and a member of the Small Business for America’s Future Small Business Council.

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