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Snow and ice in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Snow and ice in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Deregulated, Privatized Utilities in Texas Are Designed for Private Gain at Public Expense

My family spent the Texas freeze cold and dirty and parched while utilities bilked us and politicians fled to resorts.

Denita Jones

 by OtherWords

We used every coat, blanket, sweater, and pair of socks in the house—even when we slept.

We only cooked once a day. We couldn't bathe or do laundry. Unlike many families, we had water—but it looked almost like milk coming out of the tap.

It was the Texas freeze, and we were cold and dirty and hungry and parched.

In some ways, we were lucky. At least 80 people died, and possibly many more. And even now, we still have neighbors without water coming over to shower and use our bathroom.

Our state is a cautionary tale about power generation that's privatized and poorly regulated. The big companies who run so much of the grid in Texas failed to winterize their infrastructure, leading to massive blackouts and tremendous suffering.

We knew this could happen, because it already did. These same failures wreaked havoc after a winter storm back in 2011, but politicians—often with industry donations in their pockets—failed to fix the problem.

A decade later, the blackouts were five times as destructive—and could have been even worse. Reports now say we were just four and a half minutes from a total grid failure in Texas, which could have caused blackouts for weeks and even months.

Unfortunately, we have a governor and conservative legislators who seem to care more about private profits than our lives and health. They care more about golfing and going to resorts in Cancun than whether my children have heat or drinking water.

All of these issues are interlocked—jobs that don't pay enough, utilities that cost too much, the lack of basic public health protections at work.

It was the corporations, utilities, and regulators who failed. But it's ordinary folks who bore the brunt of losing power who are being forced to pay—literally.

The state's grid manager overcharged Texans by at least $16 billion during the storm, leading to power bills that ran thousands of dollars during the blackouts. And authorities are now saying they won't even bother to sort out the over-charges.

Why are they doing this? Because they can. Our deregulated, privatized utilities in Texas are designed for private gain at public expense.

This was true even before the freeze. This summer they charged me so much for electricity that I had to choose between eye appointments, doctor visits for my kids, and power enough to run the air conditioner in the unforgiving Texas summer.

And this is hardly the only crisis we're living through right now.

Last May, my boss reopened my place of employment without any safety precautions. I'd been promised the opportunity to work from home to help my kids with their online schooling. They went back on that promise, so I was forced to quit.

Now, the governor has gone ahead and thrown out every single remaining COVID-19 safety measure—even with every new aggressive virus variant now present in Texas. This will force millions more of us to make dreadful choices.

Is this leadership?

All of these issues are interlocked—jobs that don't pay enough, utilities that cost too much, the lack of basic public health protections at work. These bad policies hit us in the Black, brown, and immigrant communities the hardest. But no matter where we come from or what we look like, all of us deserve better than this.

That's why I organize with the Poor People's Campaign—to help other low-income parents fight for a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, and affordable health care and housing. If there's something worse than not being warm or bathed or properly fed for weeks, it's having lawmakers who bring home huge paychecks and ride out storms in resorts while we suffer.

We need to use our collective voice to make them change. It's you and me that will make the change, together.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Denita Jones

Denita Jones is a single mother and organizer with the Poor People’s Campaign in Dallas. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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